“Chabahar is pivotal for regional connectivity”
The observance of ‘Chabahar day’ in this city on the Gulf of Oman on February 26, organized by Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO), marked a milestone in the evolving India-Iran-Afghanistan strategic axis on developing Chabahar.
At the conference, the Iranian government made a strong pitch for the port as well as the Chabahar Free Trade Zone which it’s aiming to establish as a leading hub for manufacturing, investment, trade and transit.
Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleymani, in his speech said the port is “important for the peace and security of Iran.” Describing Chabahar as “a gift from the Almighty”.
Molana Abdol Hameed, representing the Sunnis in Sistan Baluchestan province in which Chabahar is located too extolled the benefits of Chabahar and the progress it would bring to the region.
The governor of Sistan Baluchestan, Ahmed Ali Mohebati, too made his pitch to draw investment to what is Iran’s second largest province that also shares a porous border with Pakistan. “We invite investors to invest in Chabahar. We’ll support them. We don’t have any limits on the kind of investments that can be made in the Chabahar Free Trade Zone.”
A measure of the importance India attaches to the development of Chabahar as a trade and transit hub was the presence of a large business delegation of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) at the meet, held in the International Conference and Exhibition Center of Chabahar Free Zone.
The Indian government was represented by shipping secretary Gopal Krishna and Arun Kumar Gupta, managing director of Indian Ports Global Ltd (IPGL), a public sector that started operating at Chabahar in December.
In his address at the conference, Gopal Krishna emphasised the historical ties between New Delhi and Tehran noting, “an old relationship is being reaffirmed through Indian investment in Chabahar”. In addition, he also drew attention to what the future holds for those backing the port. “The direct beneficiary of Chabahar is landlocked Afghanistan…It’s an opportunity for India to share in the development of Sistan Balucheistan…It is an important milestone for global logistics.”.
Afghanistan too was represented by a large business delegation at the conference and had its deputy minister for transport, Imam Mohammad Warymoch, who referred to India as “bade bhai” (big brother) in his speech that was initially in Hindi.
Stating that he was “grateful to both India and Iran for believing in the prosperity and stability of Afghanistan”, Warymoch further said, “the entire region can connect and work together for economic prosperity.” For good measure, he added: “A 100 years from now, I hope historians will remember this day as a turning point in regional connectivity and cooperation.”
Behrooz Aqaei, the director-general of the Sistan Baluchestan ports and maritime department, said: “Our aim is to enhance maritime cooperation among countries of the region. The port has two container and three general cargo berths and ships of any size can enter it.” For, the port has a draft (depth) of 16 meters and can accommodate large ships.
“Chabahar is pivotal for regional connectivity,” remarked the Indian diplomat. And the Iranians are in agreement. “It is the gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe too. If India wants to access Europe, the shortest, safest and cheapest route is through Iran.”
As Arun Kumar Gupta, managing director of Indian Ports Global Ltd said “Geographically, the port is very well-located. It’s on the cross-route of the North-South and East-West corridors.” Gupta also drew attention to the Zaranj-Delaram highway which in turn is connected to the Garland Highway—the latter connects the major Afghan cities of Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kunduz.
The garland highway has played a useful role in enabling the distribution of wheat shipments that have gone from India to Afghanistan (via Chabahar) to its various regions. India is also assisting Iran with a 500-km rail link between Chabahar and Zahedan.