India Plans Shipping Afghan Goods via Iran

• Category: Afghanistan
KABUL (Pajhwok Afghan News) – India and Iran are set to ink a transit agreement on transporting goods to landlocked Afghanistan, a newspaper reported on Sunday.
Chabahar shown on a map

Chabahar
(Map: courtesy of Google)

India is helping develop the Chabahar Port, which will give it access to the oil and gas resources in Iran and the Central Asian states. By so doing, India hopes to compete with the Chinese, who are building Gwadar Port, in Pakistani Baluchistan. Iran plans to use Chabahar for transhipment to Afghanistan and Central Asia, while keeping the port of Bandar Abbas as a major hub mainly for trade with Russia and Europe. India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. Work on the Chabahar-Milak-Zaranj-Dilaram route from Iran to Afghanistan is in progress. Iran is, with Indian aid, upgrading the Chabahar-Milak road and constructing a bridge on the route to Zaranj. India's BRO is laying the 213 km Zaranj-Dilaram road. It is a part of India's $750 mln aid package to Afghanistan.

The government in New Delhi also moved a cabinet note on investing more than $100 mln in the expansion of the Chabahar (چابهار) port in south-eastern Iran. The port will serve as a hub for the transportation of transit goods.

According to The Indian Express, China’s decision to take over the Gwadar port in south-western Pakistan has lent urgency to project. Located along the same coast, the ports are just over 70 km apart. The newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying it would be in India’s interest to utilise the port’s potential to dispatch merchandise to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Earlier in the month, Iran and Pakistan launched their long-awaited $7.5 bln Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project in defiance of US pressure – a move that has prompted Delhi to pursue joint ventures Tehran. Earlier the Pakistani delegation had flown in three planes to Chabahar about 200 km from Gabd. “The Iran-Pakistan ‘gaslifeline’ will help eradicate terrorism, bring prosperity to the region and overcome poverty,” President Zardari said after the ceremony.

Amid increasing international pressure and a slew of biting economic sanctions on Iran, India is “wrestling” over to either preserve its historic, cultural and traditional ties with Tehran or join the US-led global community against it, an Indian Congressional report has said recently.

The Indian Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its report said India and Iran have sought to accommodate each others’ interests and avoid mutual conflict. “Their interests have tended to align on several issues, particularly Afghanistan, where both countries support the minority factions based in the north and west. India reportedly wants to expedite the development of Iran’s Chabahar port, which would give India direct access to Afghanistan and Central Asia without relying on transit routes through Pakistan,” the report said.

Of particular concern to some US officials, especially in the late 1990s, were India-Iran military-to-military relationships and projects, the CRS said. “The relationship included visits to India by some Iranian naval personnel, although India said these exchanges involve junior personnel and focus mainly on promoting interpersonal relations and not on India’s provision to Iran of military expertise,” it said.

“The military relationship between the countries has withered over at least the past five years. India and Iran, along with the United States, backed anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan during 1996-2001,” CRS report said.

As Asif Ezdi, a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service, writes: “these road and rail links and the pipeline can only be built if the situation in Baluchistan is stabilised. That can only happen if bold steps are taken to satisfy the demand of the people of the province for genuine autonomy and to give them control over their natural resources.”