The Chabahar port project has been in the works since as far back as 2003, when the first MoU was signed. India and Afghanistan were keen to find an alternative route to Afghanistan, since Pakistan does not allow the transit of Indian goods through its territory. The project has been long-delayed thanks to many factors, including the crippling sanctions which US and its European allies had slapped on Iran. Today, with the lifting of sanctions, the project has a better chance of success.
PM Narendra Modi meets Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran. Image courtesy: Twitter @MEAIndia
While it is a win-win situation for all concerned, for Afghanistan it will be another lifeline, as it will make it somewhat less dependent on Pakistan, a troublesome neighbour. Not only will it be easy for Afghanistan to get Indian products directly from the Chabahar port and into Afghanistan by road and rail, but India has already spent around $100 million to construct a 218-kilometre-long (140-mile) road from Delaram in western Afghanistan to Zaranj in the Iran-Afghan border to link up with Chabahar port. Afghanistan can also tap the huge Indian market through exports from Chabahar.
India will also be investing in petrochemeicals, fertilisers, metallurgy in Chabahar’s Free Trade Zone. Indian Railways will help build a 500-kilometre line between Chabahar and Zahedan as part of the project. Information Communication Technology, India’s strong
points is also on the cards to be set up in the Free Trade Zone adjoining Chabahar. The FTZ is already filled with Chinese projects,
with a makeshift town also coming up for its huge workforce.
India’s hope is that the corridor will spur the unhindered flow of commerce throughout the region. Inflow of capital and technology could lead to new industrial infrastructure in Chabahar.
But in certain quarters, too much is being made of Chabahar’s competition to Gwadar in the Makran coast of Pakistan. China had built
Gwadar and is now involved in running it. Compared to that, India’s presence in Chabahar is minuscule and as of now, it is involved in a very small way. India's efforts overall pale in comparison to China’s footprints in the region.