India operationalised the Chabahar port in Iran of Sunday, sending the first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. This is a major leap in India’s strategic outreach to landlocked Afghanistan, to which Pakistan has so far blocked access. Another six shipments of wheat will be sent to Afghanistan over the next few months.
Chabahar port sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman in the north Arabian Sea, close to Iran’s border with Pakistan. The Indian outreach to Afghanistan through Iran is taking place at a time when the Trump administration is trying to push Tehran into a corner through diplomatic and economic means.
New Delhi recently started an air freight corridor to Afghanistan, and has sent 981 tonnes of fruit since mid-June this year. But the air corridor has limitations in terms of capacity, and the sea route has economic advantages. From Chabahar port, which is easily accessible to India, the consignment will be transported to Afghanistan over Iranian roads.
The wheat shipment was flagged off from Kandla port in Gujarat with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani joining the ceremony via video-conferencing. The “landmark moment” would pave the way for “operationalisation of the Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the development as a “new chapter” in regional cooperation and connectivity.
Swaraj described the operationalisation of the sea route as an important step in realising the shared aspiration to carve out “new routes” of peace and prosperity. “I am extremely delighted that today we have joined on a momentous occasion for the people of our three countries and the region,” she said.
“The wheat that is leaving the Indian shores today is a gift from the people of India to our Afghan brethren. It is testament to the continued commitment of the government and the people of India to support our Afghan brethren in building a normal, peaceful, prosperous, secure and bright future for themselves,” Swaraj said.
Chabahar port is expected to open up new opportunities for trade and transit from and to Afghanistan, and enhance trade and commerce among the three countries and the wider region, including Central Asia. The trilateral agreement on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor was signed during the visit of Prime Minister Modi to Iran in May 2016.
India and Iran have expressed their commitment to early completion of work on the port project. Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari recently said that work was progressing as scheduled. “We are hopeful of starting operations at Chabahar port by the end of 2018. It will be a win-win situation for India, Iran and Afghanistan, as trade and business through this route could reach even Russia and Europe,” Gadkari had said.