Behind the US decision to grant a waiver from sanctions for the development of the strategically-located Chabahar Port in Iran, New Delhi and Kabul worked the phones and held several meetings with top American officials and leadership to convince them about the port’s importance.
Top sources told The Indian Express that the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, had raised the issue with their American counterparts and asked them to grant a waiver for the port’s development. US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass was one of the key interlocutors to whom it was conveyed that the port was very significant. From the Afghan side, newly-appointed National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib — who served as Afghan envoy to the US between 2015 and August 2018 — was one of the key Afghan officials who lobbied for the exemption.
“It helped that Mohib was one of the best networked Afghan diplomats in Washington DC, and he coordinated with Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna for getting the waiver,” a source told The Indian Express. While India and Afghanistan coordinated their positions, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval also raised the issue with his US counterpart John Bolton and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The issue was raised quite prominently during various Indo-US meetings, including with senior US official Brian Hook, who visited India several times in the last few months. In September this year, during the Indo-US 2+2 dialogue between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and their American counterparts, Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis, the Indian side had conveyed the key argument for the exemption.
India had broadly conveyed to the US that Chabahar is India’s strategic investment in the region, which is key for various reasons. It is also seen as a gateway to Central Asia, which is inaccessible for India directly. The Chabahar port is not just a financial investment but also is a strategic alternative to access Afghanistan — since that’s the only way to circumvent Pakistan and get to Afghanistan.
The American interlocutors were told that if sanctions kick in and cover the infrastructure development in Chabahar, it may face roadblocks in meeting the deadlines. New Delhi also told American officials that India’s goal of helping Afghanistan’s reconstruction, at the request of the Trump administration, may be affected by any US move to tighten the screws on Chabahar’s potential use.
The need for a waiver became even more important since Iran was seen to be offering the port to others, including China, which is already developing the Gwadar Port in Pakistan.