India-West Asia Ties - December 2017

Chabahar port inaugurated: The Chabahar port phase I was inaugurated by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on 3 December. It marks an important milestone in India-Iran relations as well as the resolve of Afghanistan and India to look for a viable transit corridor to landlocked Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar port is located in the Gulf of Oman along the Makran coast, in the Iranian province of Seistan-Baluchistan, just 75 km from the China-built and operated Gwadar port in Balochistan province of Pakistan. It is at a distance of 480 nautical miles from Kandla port, and about 900 km from Mundra port in Gujarat.

India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with a capital investment of $85 million (Rs 546 crore) and annual revenue expenditure of $23 million (Rs 147 crore) on a 10-year lease. This will establish a Transit and Transport Corridor among the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran, besides multi-modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations. The port is expected to be operational by the end of 2018 with New Delhi committed to developing a free trade area around the port, and finally completing the loop with a $1.6 billion (Rs 10,000 crore) railway line to Zahedan.

Although it involves the use of a land-cum-sea route to trade with Afghanistan against the much shorter land corridor through Pakistan, Chabahar provides linkage via an Iranian-built road to the western Afghan border connected to the Zaranj-Delaram road India has built in Afghanistan. Connecting Chabahar with the North-South Corridor Initiative would also enable Indian goods to sail to the Iranian port, then go by rail to Mashhad on the northern border into Azerbaijan and southern Russia, dock at Astrakhan, thereafter move up the Volga river into the Russian heartland.

It is billed as India’s gateway to Afghanistan and beyond, including Central Asia, Russia, and further to Europe. Chabahar would also provide India direct access to its Farkhor air base in Tajikistan.

India has an interest in gaining a foothold in the free trade zone being developed around Chabahar port: in addition to a urea plant, other energy-intensive industries can also be set up in the zone. In fact, National Aluminium Company (NALCO) has signed a MoU to locate an aluminium plant in Chabahar. Proposals for Indian investments in upstream oil and gas exploration have been discussed by Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan during his visits to Tehran.

 

December 15, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Talmiz Ahmed

Former Ambassador of India to Saudia Arabia, Oman and UAE, monitors developments in the West Asian region.  

Ambassador Talmiz Ahmad joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1974. Early in his career, he was posted in a number of West Asian countries such as Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen and later, between 1987 and 1990, he was Consul General in Jeddah. He also held positions in the Indian missions in New York, London and Pretoria. He served as Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (2000-03; 2010-11); Oman (2003-04), and the UAE (2007-10). He was also Additional Secretary for International Cooperation in the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in 2004-06. In July 2011, the Saudi Government conferred on him the King Abdul Aziz Medal First Class for his contribution to the promotion of Indo – Saudi relations. After retirement from the Foreign Service in 2011, he worked in the corporate sector in Dubai for three years. He is now a full-time academic and holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University. He has published three books: Reform in the Arab World: External Influences and Regional Debates (2005), Children of Abraham at War: the Clash of Messianic Militarisms (2010), and The Islamist Challenge in West Asia: Doctrinal and Political Competitions after the Arab Spring (2013). He writes and lectures frequently on Political Islam, the politics and economics of West Asia and the Indian Ocean and energy security issues.