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India eyes Iranian port as gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia, competition with Gwadar — analysts

India’s newly signed deal to operate Iran’s port of Chabahar is expected to provide New Delhi a gateway to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia and possibly compete with Pakistan’s Gwadar, analysts said.

The 10-year contract under which India will invest $120 million in Chabahar’s infrastructure was signed in Tehran on Monday between the state-owned Indian Ports Global Limited and the Port & Maritime Organization of Iran.

India’s Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcomed the deal saying the development of Chabahar was an “India-Iran flagship project” and the port would be a “gateway for trade with Afghanistan and broader Central Asian countries.”

New Delhi’s commitment to Chabahar started in May 2016 when Iran, India, and Afghanistan signed a trilateral transit agreement to develop the port into a regional trade hub.

“The signing of the deal signifies the strength of bilateral ties between India and Iran,” said D.P. Srivastava, who was India’s ambassador to Iran when talks on the project started. “The present agreement will build on progress achieved so far.”

India’s 2016 involvement in Chabahar came after Washington eased sanctions on Iran, which were reimposed by Donald Trump’s administration in 2018.

After the signing of Monday’s agreement, US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters sanctions on Iran remained in place and Washington would enforce them.

Prof. Sujata Ashwarya from the Center for West Asian Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi said it was not likely that sanctions would affect India, as its presence was helping deter China — the main rival of the US — from becoming involved in the Iranian port.

“(India) will effectively keep China out of the project,” Ashwarya said. “If we are there, then China won’t be there, and the US would not impose sanctions.”

Located in Iran’s southeast, Chabahar is less than 100 km from Gwadar in southwestern Pakistan, a flagship project of the multibillion-dollar China–Pakistan Economic Corridor under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Ashwarya said the Iranian port could be Gwadar’s potential competitor.

“It is an investment in trade facilitation with an eye on making Chabahar a hub,” she said.

“It provides competition to Gwadar, it could potentially lead to a secured corridor to Afghanistan and Central Asia, which means that India’s trade with these regions can flourish and broaden.”
Source: Arab News

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