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A transit center for Central Asia and Eurasia

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The Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of Chabahar Port in the inter-regional and Eurasian connectivity architecture, first during the Conference of Foreign Ministers of the Cooperation Organization of Shanghai (OCS), then again during the recent celebration of “Chabahar Day”. . The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for cross-regional trade was proposed by Pakistan’s foreign minister, while India pushed for Chabahar port to serve as a major trade route to Central Asia, during of the recent meeting of SCO foreign ministers.

Jaishankar shared the table with the Chinese Wang Yi, the Pakistani Bilawal Bhutto, the Russian Sergei Lavrov and the leaders of the countries of Central Asia while underlining the potential of the port of Chabahar in Iran for the economic future of the grouping. India also welcomed Iran’s inclusion in the SCO, a process that is expected to start at the Samarkand summit later this year.

Chabahar and India’s connectivity to Eurasia

The Chabahar Agreement, also known as the Trilateral Agreement, was signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan in May 2016 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran. Its aim was to develop the Iranian port of Chabahar as a maritime hub with rail links linking India to Afghanistan via Iran, bypassing Pakistan. It was designed as a win-win deal and was meant to benefit countries economically. It has provided landlocked Afghanistan with access to global shipping routes. For Iran, the deal meant investment and economic reintegration, which the country desperately needed after years of harsh international sanctions. Furthermore, it provided India with a way to circumvent Pakistan in its pursuit westward and also control the growing China-Pakistan tie.

The port of Chabahar, on the energy-rich country’s south coast, is easily accessible from India’s west coast and is increasingly seen as a rival to Pakistan’s port of Gwadar, which is just 80 kilometers away. Chabahar. Since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the first phase of Chabahar Port in December 2017, it has become a commercial transit hub for the region and a more stable and economical alternative for landlocked countries to reach India and the market. global.

Asked about India’s interest in the development of Chabahar port, Jaishankar replied that India is interested because if Iran develops more ports, the connectivity of these ports to northern regions of Iran would improve. It makes available more land trade channels, which are more efficient than these sea routes. Being more competitive in the flow of goods is therefore essential for economic progress today. For India, it creates two new trade routes: one to Central Asia and the other to the Caucasus.

After the blocking of the Suez Canal in 2021, the need to establish alternative trade routes between Europe and Asia has become imperative. In the same year, Jaishankar also proposed that Chabahar Port be included in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to enhance regional connectivity. This gives a clear picture of how India is developing its routes to all of Central Asia, including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as well as to Europe.

Chabahar Port is a crucial effort for India to provide maritime access to Afghanistan. India’s first cargo of goods to Afghanistan was sent via Chabahar port in 2017, and on February 24, 2019, Afghanistan bypassed Pakistan to send its first cargo of exports to India via the port of Chabahar. As a result, the port has become a more affordable and reliable route as well as a commercial transit hub for the region.

Chabahar’s development was crucial to India’s economic and strategic interests. Access to the port gave India’s West Asia policy a stronger strategic impetus. It also helps to advance India’s soft power diplomacy. A notable example would be the role that the port of Chabahar played in the distribution of humanitarian aid during Covid-19.

India also used it to transport 75,000 tons of wheat as food aid to Afghanistan in 2020. Strategically, the Chabahar project offered India access to a port just 90 kilometers from Gwadar, a port essential to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and a symbol of China. growing influence in neighboring India. Notably, it was the first time that India started to manage a port outside its borders.

Conclusion

As India prepares to assume the SCO presidency next year, fundamental changes are underway, including the inclusion of Iran as a full member. India and Iran both support connecting South Asia and Europe through INSTC. The SCO framework is expected to put more emphasis on connectivity through Chabahar in the near future. Chabahar Port has shown its potential to become a transit hub for Central Asia and Eurasia at a time when Asian countries, especially landlocked ones, are reinventing their connectivity prospects.

The project has encountered several difficulties, largely due to the international sanctions imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program and the coercive policy adopted by the Trump administration. However, the recent reaffirmation by India and Iran of their commitment to continue working together on the development of Chabahar port as a transit hub for the region, including Central Asia, has revived interest of the general public for what the future holds for Chabahar.

Esha Banerji is majoring in Defense and Strategic Studies at Savitribai Phule Pune University. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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