A billion hopes, a billion dreams are fuelled today, as the momentous Chabahar agreement, after more than a decade of being on table, finally sees the light of the day. The Trilateral Agreement on transit and transport between India, Iran and Afghanistan through the Iranian port of Chabahar seeks to utilise the port’s strategic location to boost regional economic cooperation and connectivity. It would have a spiralling impact on regional trade and commerce, would create tremendous employment opportunities and strengthen people-to-people connects in the region.
The Agreement, which was being negotiated since 2003, got stalled, partly, due to the imposition of international sanctions on Iran in 2006. However, with Iran signing an interim agreement in 2013 with the United Nation’s Security Council’s permanent members and Germany (commonly known as P5+1) to limit uranium enrichment, the talks gathered pace. A Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed in July 2015 and the nuclear related sanctions on Iran were, subsequently, lifted in January 2016, giving further boost to the discussions.
Afghanistan has always nurtured the vision that regional integration alone can bring enduring peace, development and prosperity for the region, and stand committed to this goal, and hence has taken a slew of measures to create a conducive business environment and promote regional cooperation and integration.
Afghanistan has a comprehensive and wide–ranging cooperation agenda with India, which is based on ancient and friendly ties, and mutual respect and trust. During the historic visit of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Kabul in December 2015, the two sides had fruitful discussions on multitude of issues, including the Chabahar agreement.
Since then, the port figured high during the various high-level Afghan-India and Afghan-Iran bilateral exchanges. The meeting between Prime Minister Modi and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the side-lines of the SCO summit in Ufa, Russia, in July 2015 provided impetus to the protracted negotiations. Since then, the Trilateral Technical Group on Chabahar intensified their efforts to work out the modalities of the Agreement. The text of the Agreement was finalised by the trio in Delhi on April 11, 2016 and was decided to be soon officially signed.
A propitious proposition
The signing of the Agreement in the presence of the leaders of all the three countries highlights the importance the trio attaches to the port. Located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province on Iran’s southeastern coast, the port would connect South Asia with Central Asia, Gulf, Europe and the Caucasus, and considerably cut transportation costs and time, thereby proving to be a win-win situation for all the stakeholders.
The Agreement would provide Afghanistan, a land-locked country, an alternate access to a sea port. Thereby, it would considerably boost the country’s connectivity with the regional and international markets. Using the extant Iranian road network, the port is easily accessible from Zaranj in Afghanistan, which is less than 900 km away from Chabahar. Furthermore, using the Zaranj-Delaram highway, built by India in 2009, the port could be accessed by four of the major cities of Afghanistan; Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, via the garland road network.
India stands to gain an alternate access to Afghanistan via Iran, besides strengthening its energy security by investing in Iran’s oil and gas projects and gaining access to Central Asian energy reserves. The port is easily accessible from Indian western ports of Mumbai and Kandla.
While, Iran would benefit from increased trade, earn transit fees and witness major infrastructural investments and developments. Also, development of Chabahar port will have a multiplier effect on the growth of its economy and boost foreign investments in the country.
Originally published on May 23, Economic Times