India strengthens cargo handling capacity of Chabahar Port
India has supplied a consignment of two Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHC) to Iran’s Chabahar port, with a total contract value of over USD 25 Million under a contract agreement for supply of 6 MHC. The consignment of cranes arrived from Marghera port, Italy, has been unloaded successfully on 18th January, 2021 at Chabahar port and presently undergoing trials run.
With 140 metric tons lifting capacity, multipurpose equipment and accessories like Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHC) will enable India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) to provide seamless services for Container, Bulk and General Cargo at Shahid Beheshti Port of Chabahar.
This is a step towards India’s commitment towards infrastructure development of Shahid Beheshti Port of Chabahar.
The bilateral contract between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Republic of India was signed on 23rd May 2016 with a total value of USD 85 million for Equipping, Mechanizing and starting Operations at Shahid Beheshti Port of Chabahar development Phase- I. To achieve this ambitious aim, an SPV namely India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) Mumbai was incorporated under the ambit of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways.
Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (I/C) Mansukh Mandaviya says that Chabahar Port is a strategic port with great national importance. The delivery of consignment of heavy equipment, including cranes shows India’s commitment to the strategic connectivity of Chabahar port project that will provide access to markets in Central Asia. Development of Chabahar port is the anchor for the expansion of economic and mutual relations between India and Iran and it will give a further boost to the maritime trade between both the countries.
The location of Chabahar Port has strategically advantage and high potential to provide connectivity among India, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other CIS countries specially Eastern Central Asian Republics(CIR) to increase trade between these countries.
On the road map to connect with Chabahar, the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Teheran in May 2016 was a path breaking one. The high point was the signing of the Trilateral Transport and Trade Agreement among India, Iran and Afghanistan. The Agreement opened up prospect of land connectivity for India with Afghanistan and the CARs and is considered as a milestone in Indian foreign policy initiatives. As observed by Prime Minister Modi “It could alter the history in the region”.
It must be noted that Chabahar opens directly into the Indian Ocean, and is a deep water port. Moreover, it is a mere 1000 km from Kandla on the Gujarat coast. Another major advantage that would accrue to India is its ships can bypass Dubai and reach Chabahar directly. From Chabahar a road link of about 600 km connects the port with Zahidan on the Iran-Afghan border. India’s Border Road Organisation has built a 217 km road link that connects Zaranj (on the Afghan-Iran border) with Zahidan on one side, and Delaram on Afghanistan’s Garland Highway on the other side. From Delaram the cargo is transported by road to Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and thence to Uzbekistan. As part of the Trilateral Transport and Trade Agreement, India has signed a MoU on the construction of a railway line from Chabahar to Zahidan. India will provide the requisite services for the railway which is 500 km long. Presently, Chabahar has a capacity to handle 2.5 million tonnes of cargo per year and Iran would like to raise the capacity to 12.5 million tonnes. Probably in the second phase of development, which began in November 2017 the tonnage is likely to increase.
An equally landmark development was the operationalisation of the Indian berth at Chabahar. India shipped the first consignment of 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan. The Ministry of External Affairs added “The shipment of wheat is a landmark development as it will pave the way for the operationalisation of the Chabahar Port as an alternative reliable and robust connectivity to Afghanistan”.1 The first phase of work on Chabahar was completed by November 2017.
The completion phase was marked by a ceremonial inauguration. On this occasion President Rouhani said “… the port will enhance trade in the region with a final aim to connect not just Afghanistan via rail but also to the 7200 km International North-South Transport Corridor to Russia”. India was represented by the Union Minister for Shipping and Transport Shri Nitin Gadkari. India’s commitment to further involve itself in the development of Chabahar was evident, when President Donald Trump of the United States of America unilaterally revoked the nuclear agreement, and stated American intentions to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
Initially in India there were apprehensions both, in official and non-official circles about the impact the US withdrawal would have on India’s involvement in Iran. All these concerns were put to rest, when the then Indian Foreign Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj met her Iranian counterpart Mr Javid Zarif. In her statement Smt Swaraj said “India will not accept sanctions imposed or to be imposed by the United States on Iran”. Further she said “our foreign policy is not made under pressure from other countries …. We recognise UN sanctions and not specific sanctions ….”
India’s firm position on its ties with Iran reflected that it was truly promoting its regional interests. Over the years India has developed deep and abiding interests in the Central Asian region. These interests have grown phenomenally. India’s prime objective is stability and security of Afghanistan; an objective shared by Iran as well. In the opinion of both the countries, stability can be ensured through economic development in a sustained manner and Afghanistan’s capacity to engage with countries in the Indian Ocean Region.
With the management of Shahid Behesti Port in Chabahar, India will be able to circumvent Pakistan’s refusal to allow transit rights through its territory.
Another dimension is that Indian strategic interests in Iran have also grown substantially. It is the third largest supplier of oil, and Indian interests in the energy sector could also expand in areas such as exploration and development of new oil fields. Besides, at this juncture Iran is also focussing on its development and would like to shape its relations with India on a partnership basis. Even at the regional level India recognises Iran as a player of consequence in the region, as there is a degree of compatibility of security interests between the two countries.
From the geopolitical perspective for India, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) whose important component is the Gwadar Port, probably a dual use one is of immense concern. Gwadar provides China a key post to monitor Indian naval activity. From the security perspective, presence in the Chabahar is useful. Moreover, an element of competition between India and China at the commercial level is latent at present that could assume active dimension at the strategic level in future. A commentary in Chinese media wrote “… Both Chabahar and Gwadar Ports are strategic footholds in northern Indian Ocean. India does have the intention to hedge against the CPEC using the Chabahar project …. Neither the government nor the media in each country should view the cooperation of the other side with a third party in a zero sum context”.
In view of increasing interests in developing Chabahar in order to access the Central Asian region and beyond, it is essential that implementation of India’s agreements, particularly the Trilateral Transport and Trade Agreement, should not be tardy. In this regard India’s track record is not good. A timely fulfilment of its commitments will strengthen trust as well as ties in other areas and gradually pave the way for a strong partnership on regional and global issues of common interests. It will enable India to build leverages in the region.
A successful implementation of the Chabahar project will also pave the way for joint cooperation, which could be a harbinger for game changer in the region.