Chabahar port, made by India, inaugurated in Iran

Chabahar port, made by India, inaugurated in Iran

Despite the top official's words, the port, which is Iran's closest link to the Indian Ocean, poses a challenge to the neighboring Gwadar Port, which is under construction in Pakistan. Besides bilateral issues, Swaraj and Zarif are understood to have had discussions on regional and political developments in the Gulf region. It is also key to accessing the Central Asian markets for Indian goods.

In a trilateral meeting attended by Akhoundi, Afghanistan's Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw and India's Minister of State (Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan, the three sides reviewed and positively assessed the progress in the development of Chabahar Port and reiterated their commitment to complete the port at the earliest, as it would contribute to bilateral and regional trade and economic development, and provide alternate access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets. Speaking at the event, however, Iran's president said regional rivalries should give way for "more engagement and unity" in the region. Agreed upon in 2000 and ratified in 2002 by the three founding members, India, Iran and Russian Federation, the original multimodal route-from Mumbai in India to Bandar Abbas and Bandar-e-Anzali in Iran, then across the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia-did not see much traction given sanctions on Iran. Along with the plans to link the port with Afghanistan and central Asia, there are also plans to link it with Russian Federation and Europe through 7,200-km-long multi-modal North-South Transport Corridor. However, India's intention to become a partner in the project was made clear as long ago as in 2003. It can also accommodate 100,000-tonne ships, which India feels has strategic and economic potential as a rival to the Gwadar port.

It is speculated the port will still take a year to be fully functional and benefit the trio as per the plan.

The US, however, has held off criticism of India's involvement in developing Chabahar, hoping greater Indian investment in Afghanistan will help to stabilise the country. But, given the fact that the United States is now India's close ally and Russian Federation too stands to gain from the trade routes, it is fair to assume that both Pakistan and China won't indulge in disruptive activities.

■ The Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea.

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"Chabahar should also have road, rail and airport to be all set for imports and exports", he added.

"We should go after positive competition". In fact, reaching out to Afghanistan is one of the prime strategic objectives of the Chabahar port project for India.

The port's inauguration comes more than a month after the first consignment of wheat from India to Afghanistan was sent via Chabahar.

■ With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, it could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated, should the need arise. "It was also chose to convene an expert-level meeting of senior officials of the three countries at the earliest", the joint statement said.

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