Monday, 30th October 2017

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Iran opens a Pak bypass

Iran opened an extension of its southeastern Chabahar port on Sunday, which should help it become a key transit route to land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia and allow India to bypass the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar.

By Reuters, PTI in Dubai
  • Published 4.12.17
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PORT DIPLOMACY Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the inauguration of the extension of the port of Chabahar, near the Pakistani border, on Sunday. (AP)

Dubai: Iran opened an extension of its southeastern Chabahar port on Sunday, which should help it become a key transit route to land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia and allow India to bypass the nearby Pakistani port of Gwadar.

India provided $235 million of the $1 billion investment on the expansion and has committed $500 million to the port, located on the Gulf of Oman and easily accessible from India's west coast.

The development reflects a growing convergence of interests among India, Iran and Afghanistan. New Delhi has, however, been proceeding cautiously at a time Washington has taken an aggressive new approach towards Tehran.

In October, India sent its first wheat consignment to Afghanistan through Chabahar, located about 140km from Gwadar port, which is being developed with Chinese help.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated Sunday's expansion, which has more than tripled the port's capacity to 8.5 million tonnes a year, state television reported.

India's foreign ministry said that junior shipping minister Pon Radhakrishnan had represented the country at the inauguration of Phase-I of the Shahid Beheshti Port, attended also by ambassadors and senior officials of the region.

India, Iran and Afghanistan held a trilateral ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the event, resolving to develop their port, road and railway networks to open up greater access to regional markets and better integrate their economies.

"The routes of the region should be connected on land, sea and air," Rouhani said at the event, his office said.

Under an India-Iran agreement signed in May last year, New Delhi is to equip and operate two berths in the port's Phase-I, with a capital investment of $85.21 million and an annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million, on a 10-year lease.

India's foreign ministry said Radhakrishnan had represented the country in the India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral meeting in Chabahar on Sunday. Iran was represented by transport minister Abbas Akhoundi and Afghanistan by trade and commerce minister Humayoon Rasaw.

The three countries reaffirmed their commitment to completing and operationalising the port at the earliest.

"It was decided to finalise protocols related to transport and transit, ports, customs procedures and consular affairs," a joint statement issued after the meeting said.

According to the joint statement, the three ministers also discussed a trilateral pact relating to the project.

In May last year, India, Iran and Afghanistan had inked an agreement that entailed the establishment of a "transit and transport corridor" among the three countries.

Ahead of the inauguration, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had met her Iranian counterpart, Javed Zarif, in Tehran on Saturday. They discussed the implementation of the Chabahar port project, among other subjects.

Sushma had made a stopover at Tehran on her return from the Russian city of Sochi, where she had attended the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.