The Big Picture – India, Iran & Afghanistan: Converging Interests
India in October 2017 sent its first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan through Iran’s strategic Chabahar port from its western port of Kandla, Gujrat, thus launching a trade route bypassing Pakistan. It is to be taken further by tracks to Afghanistan. The new trade route is expected to provide greater access for Afghan goods to India as Pakistan does not allow India to transport through its territory to Afghanistan.
- Trump in his new strategy had asked to do more for development of Afghanistan. By developing this trade route, India has provided a clear signal to Pakistan and China that it can overcome all barriers when it comes to developing ties with Afghanistan.
- Although US has been putting sanctions on Iran for many years, but developing a port there points out to US that India has its own independent foreign policies with Iran.
- Discussions about Chabahar had been in picture since 1990s. But, it was felt in 2002 (after the defeat of Taliban rule in Afghanistan) that this port can provide connectivity to Afghanistan as Pakistan can be a permanent blockage on other routes.
- Through Iran, India can approach further Central Asia and Russia (North South Transport corridor). Through these routes and by developing maritime relations with Japan, Australia and USA, India is providing an alternative maritime route to China’s OBOR and CPEC.
- Chabahar port can be a clear competitor to Gwadar port in Pakistan and Dubai port in UAE. The marine distance to Dubai is 406 miles, Karachi is 525 miles and Mumbai is 970 miles.
- Reaching Dubai port or Bandar Abbas port required Indian cargo ships to cross Strait of Hormuz to reach Persian Gulf. Approach to Chabahar port (Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti) located in South East Iran in Gulf of Oman will be easier. Also, the highly congested Bandar Abbas port cannot handle 250,000 ton ocean-going cargo ships and therefore, Iran was dependent on UAE causing loss of revenue to it. Chabahar has the ability to handle standard cargo ships.
- India has signed a series of MOUs since 2016 centred around Port of Chabahar and is also making huge investments for developing transport facilities in the region. India will also be developing various industries (aluminium and urea plants) in the Chabahar Economic Zone.
- India and Afghanistan can together tackle terror. But, Iran has many other considerations of its regional politics when it comes into play for this.
Therefore, development of this trade route and facilities at Chabahar port is going to change geopolitics of the region. It is being looked upon as a competitor by UAE and the Gulf countries. But, it is beneficial for developments of Iran and Afghanistan and also gives access to India further to Turkemnistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Europe via 7,200 km long multi-modal North-South Transport Corridor.