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India, Afghanistan defy US on Iran’s Chabahar plan

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A general view of an oil dock is seen from a ship at the port of Kalantari in the city of Chabahar, January 17, 2012. (Photo by Reuters)

India and Afghanistan are pushing ahead with plans to open a new transportation corridor between the two countries via Iran’s strategic port of Chabahar despite US sanctions.

New Delhi sees the port crucial to its connectivity ambitions, including access to CIS countries - a regional organization of 10 post-Soviet republics in Eurasia.

For landlocked Afghanistan, the corridor means opening the way for billions of dollars in trade and cutting the country’s dependence on foreigners for aid as well as stemming the illicit opium trade.

The US is plainly opposed to the project, not just because of its entrenched hostility to Iran, but also its plans for a long-haul military stay in Afghanistan and its efforts to keep India and Russia as apart as possible.

US President Donald Trump has also expressed an interest in Afghanistan’s massive mineral resources which India has already won the rights to exploit, including an iron mine. New Delhi seeks to use a planned railroad to Chabahar to export iron ore from the Hajigak iron mine in central Afghanistan.

Both India and Afghanistan have signaled their commitment to the development of Chabahar.

On Tuesday, senior officials from the two countries met their counterpart in Tehran to discuss a full commissioning of the port that the three countries are jointly developing.

It was the first trilateral meeting of the Coordination Council of the Chabahar Agreement, coming in the face of fresh sanctions imposed by Washington on the Islamic Republic.

"Detailed discussions were held between the three sides on full operationalization of the trilateral agreement for international transit and transport through Chabahar port," India’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

"All sides shared the view that a full operationalization of the trilateral Chabahar initiative will promote connectivity and economic development of Afghanistan and the region," it added.

According to the statement, a decision was also taken to form a follow-up committee that would hold its first meeting within two months in Chabahar.

It will discuss and aim to finalize a protocol to harmonize transit, roads, customs and consular matters that were shared by the Indian side at the meeting for making the route attractive, decreasing logistic costs and paving the way for a smooth implementation of the trilateral Chabahar agreement, the statement said

India has pledged to invest $500 million in Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman which is Iran’s closest port to the Indian Ocean.

Last December, Iran opened an extension of the port, carried out with an investment of $1 billion including $235 million from India. In October, India sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar.

The port is also a key link in the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multi-modal network of ship, rail and road routes to move freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

India is also attempting to put in place a separate corridor linking Gujarat and West Bengal to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and eastern Russia via Iran's Bandar Abbas.

Indian officials say the idea is to access the markets of the landlocked region and create a corridor to import natural resources from the region in a shorter period than being done currently.

Officials from India and Kazakhstan will reportedly meet in New Delhi next week to finetune proposals for the corridor which will run parallel with INSTC and Chabahar route.  

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