Chabahar port phase-I opens, to boost India-Iran trade

First phase of strategic Chabahar port, party developed by India, inaugurated by Iranian President

Iran has officially opened an extension of its southeastern port of Chabahar, which Tehran hopes will become a key transit hub for land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia.

New Delhi has committed up to $500 million for the development of the Chabahar port along with roads and railway lines in order to get access to the Afghan and Central Asian markets while bypassing rival Pakistan.

The port in Iran's 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 around 80 kms from Chabahar.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated the Shahid Beheshti Port's first phase in a ceremony that was attended by ministers, envoys and officials from 17 countries, including Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan. The cargo was sent from Kandla port in Gujarat in October this year. The Indian government has committed Dollars 500 million to Chabahar, with an aim to join an increasingly important transport corridor to resource-rich regional countries. In fact, reaching out to Afghanistan is one of the prime strategic objectives of the Chabahar port project for India.

Pakistan now does not allow India to transport goods through its territory to Afghanistan because of hostility in their ties. Besides bilateral issues, Swaraj and Zarif are understood to have had discussions on regional and political developments in the Gulf region.

In the first phase of the port of Shahid Beheshti, 15 million cubic meters of dredging, 203 hectares of new land, and 1,650 breakwaters have been constructed, and its basin depth is 16.5 square meters.

India, Iran and Afghanistan recently signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading toward Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. Chabahar also has an global airport and Iran's Navy and Air Force have bases in the city, adding to the ports value.

A few months after the nuclear deal with Iran went into effect in January 2016 and sanctions were lifted, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country where he agreed to open a $500m line of credit to develop the port - almost half of what Iran is planning to invest. "It is expected that a trilateral coordination meeting of senior officials will be convened at the earliest". "We welcome good competition", he said.

In a surprise visit, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday stopped over in Tehran for a short lunch meeting with her counterpart Javad Zarif.

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