The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iran pact to open up Central Asia corridor

New Delhi, Jan. 7: India has reached a new transit agreement with Iran and Afghanistan that will not only give it access to the war-ravaged country, but also help in pursuing Delhi’s goal of establishing a geo-strategic advantage in Central Asia.

The agreement will open up a new port for India in Iran and make both Afghanistan and Central Asia more accessible for Indian goods.

The agreement was reached after a two-day meeting in Teheran on January 4 and 5 between India, Iran and Afghanistan.

While minister of state for foreign affairs Digvijay Singh represented India, Iranian road minister Khorram and Afghan trade minister Mohammed Kazami represented the other two nations in the trilateral agreement.

The Chabhahar port in Iran will now be open for India and to facilitate Delhi’s engagement there Teheran has decided to offer up to 90 per cent discount on various port charges. India feels its presence will help in the speedy development of the port, which in turn will make both Afghanistan and Central Asia more accessible.

As part of the agreement, India will build a crucial 230-km highway from Zaranj in Iran to Delaram on the arterial Herat-Kabul-Kandahar garland highway to connect the Iranian port to Afghanistan. This arrangement opens up Afghanistan and Central Asia for India.

At present, Indian goods reach Afghanistan only through Iran as Pakistan has still not allowed overflight rights to India. But once the port comes up, trade and transit are likely to improve.

This will also help India in taking care of its energy security. Access to Central Asia is important for India. Earlier, it could reach the region only through Turkmenistan.

But this was not a very attractive proposition as Asghabad charged steep customs duty and transit charges for any goods entering its territory. The garland road that India is building will make access to both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan much easier.

Another key aspect is that Caspian energy can now be brought to India via the Iranian route. Though it is one of the shortest and perfect transit routes, Washington had deliberately avoided it to keep Iran out of the loop. But with Delhi’s emergence in the scene as a potential market for the energy from the region, the Iranian route can once again become viable.

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