The first phase of the Chabahar port in Iran has been inaugurated. It is a major event in promoting India’s strategic interests in Central Asia. India’s shipping ministry played an active role in developing the Chabahar port which is situated on the Gulf of Oman and is a great thrust to Indian connectivity. India’s overland trade with Afghanistan will now be in a position to bypass Pakistan with which its relations are now pretty sour. India sent 11 lakh tonnes of wheat through Chabahar to Afghanistan in October this year. Pakistan’s strategic hold over Afghanistan will consequently be diminished. Chabahar is also connected to the International North South Corridor (INSTC). That corridor links up Russia, Central Asian Republics and Iran through road, rail and shipping networks. It gives India access to a much larger Eurasian market. Trade between India and Eurasia can go up to as much as $170 billion. Chabahar can also be India’s answer to China’s one belt one road project through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The port is just 80 kms from China’s Gwadar port project in Pakistan.
The Chabahar port development project was conceived by India and Iran during the previous NDA regime. US sanctions on Iran during the Presidency of George Bush slowed down progress. The nuclear deal with Iran signed by the western powers in 2015 improved prospects for the Chabahar project. However, Washington under President Donald Trump is threatening to put pressure on Iran again. That may hurt the Chabahar project. The US wants greater Indian engagement in Afghanistan and that should however prompt Trump to give the green signal to the Chabahar project.