The first phase of the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman was inaugurated today by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, opening a new strategic route connecting Iran, India and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan, and reflecting growing convergence of interests among the three countries.
The port in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the energy-rich nation's southern coast is easily accessible from India's western coast and is increasingly seen as a counter to Pakistan's Gwadar Port, which is being developed with Chinese investment and is located at distance of around 80 kms from Chabahar.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan represented India at the inauguration ceremony of the Phase 1 of the Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar which was also attended by ambassadors and senior officials of the region.
An India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on Chabahar also took place today on the sidelines of the event where the three countries resolved to work towards integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks to open up greater opportunities for regional market access and integration of their economies.
The Chabahar port is being considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran and Afghanistan with central Asian countries besides ramping up trade among the three countries in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to New Delhi.
"The routes of the region should be connected on land, sea and air," Rouhani said at the inauguration ceremony, according to his office.
India has been closely working with Afghanistan and Iran to create alternative, reliable access routes for trade.
Under the agreement signed between India and Iran in May last year, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease.
The MEA, in a statement, said Radhakrishnan also represented India in the second India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on Chabahar port in Chabahar today. Iran was represented by its Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi and Afghanistan by its Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw.
In the meeting, the three countries assessed the progress in the development of the port and reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalise it at the earliest, which they felt would provide alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets.
A joint statement issued after the meeting said the ministers also deliberated on trilateral pact relating to the mega connectivity project and expressed satisfaction on the completion of the ratification procedures by Afghanistan and India. They welcomed the steps taken by Iran to complete the ratification process.
In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan had inked a pact which entailed establishment of Transit and Transport Corridor among the three countries using Chabahar Port as one of the regional hubs for sea transportation in Iran, besides multi- modal transport of goods and passengers across the three nations.
"The ministers discussed the next steps for full implementation of the agreement and moving towards its operationalisation. Towards this endeavour, it was decided to finalise protocols related to transport and transit, ports, customs procedures and consular affairs. It was also decided to convene an expert-level meeting of senior officials of the three countries at the earliest," the joint statement said.
Reiterating the importance of Chabahar as a hub for regional economic connectivity and their commitment to work towards this objective, the ministers also commended the joint efforts of the three countries in the recent successful transit of wheat from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar.
"The ministers agreed that an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region," the statement said.
The ministers also agreed to organise a connectivity event involving all stakeholders at Chabahar at the earliest so as to increase awareness about the new opportunities offered by Chabahar Port.
The MEA said the meeting also commended the transit of first tranche of 1,10,000 tonnes of wheat from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port.
It said Radhakrishnan expressed his positive appreciation to the Iranian side on the recent steps taken towards ratification by the Majlis of Iran on the Trilateral Transit and Trade Agreement signed in May 2016 between India, Iran and Afghanistan.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Rouhani noted that transit is the best communication tool for nations, adding "the routes of the region should be connected on land, sea and air," according to his office.
Ahead of the inauguration of the port, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj yesterday met her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif in Tehran during which implementation of the Chabahar port project was discussed among other issues.
Swaraj made a stopover at Tehran on her return from Russian city of Sochi where she had attended the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Over a month ago, India had sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan by sea through the Chabahar port, marking opening of the new transit route.