Iran’s Chabahar port crucial for trade in Central Asia: Minister Jaishankar
Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar this week said Iran’s Chabahar port has, in a short while, established its credibility and relevance handling shipments and transhipments from countries like Russia, Brazil, Thailand, Germany, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
Speaking at an event to mark the Chabahar Day at the Maritime India Summit organised by India’s shipping ministry, Jaishankar pointed out that there was a “a huge infrastructure deficit in the region, which needs to be met to fulfil the growing aspirations of our people.”
The development of the Chabahar port was an attempt to plug that gap, the minister said. The port on Iran’s Makran coast, in Sistan-Balochistan province, was a “safe, secure and reliable route to trade initially with Afghanistan and thereafter with Central Asia as a whole.”
First proposed in 2003, Chabahar port is seen as a strategic counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar port that has been developed by China. The development of the port, however, has been delayed due to tensions between the US and Iran. Former US president Donald Trump had adopted a “maximum pressure policy” against Tehran in its bid to re-negotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear pact.
With the US targeting oil exports from Iran, India’s bilateral trade with Tehran during 2019-20 fell to $4.77 billion, down 72% on year. With the Biden administration coming in, the Indian government has once again speeded up its programme to develop the port. In January two cranes were handed over to Iran for cargo movements. Another four are being sent to Iran, two are sent to arrive this month and the other two in June.
India is currently using the port to ship wheat to Afghanistan as well as pesticides to help Iran counter a locust invasion. New Delhi has been trying for years to boost its trade with Central Asia but given that the land route runs through hostile Pakistan, Chabahar is seen as the gateway to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.
In his speech, Indian shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya noted that the average monthly port calls at Chabahar had increased and efforts were on to increase linkages between Chabahar not only to South but Southeast Asia also.
Activation of the International North South Transport Corridor project (INSTC) a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between 13 countries including India would help boost the use of the port, Mandaviya said urging the 13 countries to include Chabahar in INSTC route and also consider inclusion of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan among the member countries of the INSTC.
In his speech, Iran’s Minister for Roads, Mohammad Eslami sought increased Lines of Credit from India to complete the first phase of the port which he said could handle 8.5 million tonnes of cargo. The speedy completion of the infrastructure at the port facilities would give a further fillip to regional trade, he added.