India has decided to move cautiously on firming up any investment pact with Iran on the development of Chabahar port. It is likely to suggest more deliberations which,it feels,can be best carried forward by setting up a joint working group of experts. India is also keen to bring Afghanistan on board to maintain the trilateral emphasis of the project.
To this end,Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai disclosed on Saturday that Iran has suggested a trilateral meeting on Chabahar on Sunday at the level of officials between India,Afghanistan and Iran,where the next steps will be discussed. He was briefing reporters on Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to Iran beginning Tuesday for the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit. Iran has cleared Indian investment in the port and would like to see an agreement as a plausible outcome to Singhs visit.
Mathais comments revealed the government tentativeness. We are hoping to schedule a trilateral meeting…. The proposal is specifically for a discussion on Chabahar. And when I say my counterparts,I know that the Iranian counterpart is there. Whether the Afghan counterpart would be the same person who normally interacts with me,I am not sure.
The Chabahar port provides India an alternative route to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan. Tehran has moved rather slowly on this project despite India having built the Zaranj-Delaram road from the Afghan side of the Iran-Afghanistan border. However,its deteriorating economic health and the political necessity to engage India at a time when its playing host to the NAM Summit have provided the incentive for Iran to move forward.
On the Indian side,the problem is how to calibrate the political signal it sends out at a time when the West is focused on making economic sanctions work effectively against Iran. Afghanistan too has been reluctant given the issues involved.
Mathai did,however,give a clear update on the project and underlined that development of Chabahar remains important to India. The Iranians also have plans for developing rail lines which will go from Chabahar not only towards the Afghan border but further to the Turkmen border through Mashaq. All these raise a number of very interesting possibilities in terms of… the industrial developments in Afghanistan in which we have a very large stake. What we would probably need is a kind of a joint working group at experts level to take up what we mutually decide is probably the best way.
The PM will spend Wedn-esday on bilateral matters. He will be meeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei as well as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.