Chabahar Port, India's 'open access' to Central Asia

Tehran, Jan 20, IRNA -- Chabahar Port in southeastern Iranian Province of Sistan and Baluchistan holds the golden key for India to foray into Afghanistan as well as the Central Asian market.

India can vastly expand its commercial ties with five Central Asian countries and find new business opportunities in that region by using Iran's southeastern Chabahar Port, according to an article published in India Times on Saturday.

The author, M Reyaz, believes, 'With the completion of the first phase of Shaheed Behesti port, Iran’s first deepwater seaport at Chabahar, India hopes to open direct access not only to Afghanistan but the larger Central Asia through multimodal International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).'

The 7,200-kilometer-long INSTC is a network of ship, rail and road route for moving cargo between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and finally Europe. The route primarily involves transiting freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia by land, rail and sea.

Reyaz, who holds a PhD on Central Asia from the Indian public university Jamia Millia Islamia, explains in details that India 'has made capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease' in Iran's key Chabahar Port, located on the northern coast of the Sea of Oman.

'India is also looking to develop a railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan on Iran-Afghanistan border, close to Zaranj-Delaram road that India has already built in Afghanistan,' wrote the India Times contributor.

India’s biggest stake in the region is obviously in Afghanistan where it has invested to the tune of $3 billion in several large and medium projects, according to India Times.

India officially took over the operations at Shaheed Beheshti Port where it received the bulk carrier Macheras, a Cyprus-registered cargo vessel, that was loaded with 72,458 million tons of corn dispatched from Brazil late last December.

India Times argues, 'Huge investments in Chabahar project can only be matched if the meagre trade volume that India currently has in Central Asia exponentially increases in near future.'

The Indian daily mentions a recent visit by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to all five Central Asian countries [Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajiskistan] that shows how interested New Delhi is to speed up the Asian country's regional policy. He was the second Indian premier after Jawaharlal Nehru who paid a visit to all the Central Asian nations. 'That explains the new found enthusiasm with connectivity projects in the region,' higlights the newspaper.

On Saturday, the Indian government signed a long-term contract with Uzbekistan to supply its nuclear reators with uranium, according to Indian media. Transiting this raw material from Tashkent needs to pass through the North-South Corridor and that reflects the important role of Iran in between.

This fact is highlighted when put into the conext of the continued disputes and tensions between India and Pakistan that has entered in talks with China to be used as part of the country's new Silk Road, the author says.

'India has expressed its strong objections in the past to China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s ambitious BRI [Belt and Road initiative; another name for China's new Silk Road plans] due to concerns over its sovereignty. CPEC passes through areas in Pakistan that are disputed, and hence India sees it as disrespect to its territorial integrity.'
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