The Chabahar troika
The Islamic republics of Iran, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of India are eager to support and consolidate cooperation and develop economic relations at the regional and global levels. A memorandum of understanding was signed in January 2003 among Iran, Afghanistan and India on the development of transport and transit infrastructure in their territories. Part of this picture is Iran’s Chabahar port. Chabahar is one of the main regional hubs in transport cooperation among these three contracting parties. They aim to use rail, road and/or air and customs capabilities provided by Chabahar and its Free Trade and Industrial Zone. One needs to see it in light of Afghanistan’s need as a landlocked country to have access to the open seas through Chabahar Port.
For the implementation of this MoU, the focal ministries of each state will be: the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development from Iran and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation from Afghanistan. India has yet to decide.
The objective of the agreement is to create a reliable transport corridor for goods and passengers. The idea is also to increase efficiency to attract goods and passengers from other countries and facilitate access to international markets through Chabahar.
India, Iran and Afghanistan also propose a Coordination Council for the implementation of the Chabahar agreement. It shall hold its first meeting within three months of the date of entry into force of this agreement in order to formulate rules of procedure as well as a mechanism to follow up. The Coordination Council will meet at least once a year, alternatively in the territories of the three countries in alphabetical order or at the request of any of the parties.
There is also a follow-up committee which will determine:
a. The routes of the international transport and transit corridors.
b. Study taxes, charges and tariffs currently applied at ports, railways, roads and border checkpoints by each contracting party and submit proposals to the Coordination Council in order to increase attractiveness of international transport and transit corridors.
c. Study the existing and future facilities of the transportation and transport infrastructure in the territories of the parties, if necessary.
d. Prepare proposals to achieve the objectives of this agreement so they do not contradict the laws of any of these three countries.
Iran will be the depository state and the place of the permanent secretariat of the agreement. The depository state submits certified copies of this agreement to the parties. The secretariat will inform the parties of any accession or withdrawal from the agreement.
Indian premier Modi’s visit to Iran finally sealed the deal on Chabahar port, enhancing India’s connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia. The India-Iran-Afghanistan troika will give tough competition to the China-Pakistan axis emerging at Gwadar port. India has already spent Rs600 crore on building road connecting the Iran border and Afghanistan. Chabahar connectivity will improve road as well as maritime connectivity giving a boost to trade relations. India committed to pay oil dues worth $6.4b earlier to Iran.
In this changing scenario of international and regional politics and especially in the context of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port and Iran’s Chabahar Port, Chabahar has dented Pakistan’s centrality to Afghanistan’s external trade and Central Asia as a major portion of its transit business has been lost to Iran and now India. Recently, Afghanistan finalized a tripartite trade agreement with Iran and India on using Chabahar as an alternative route, which is expected to increase bilateral trade from $800 million to $3 billion.
Considering the utility of Chabahar over the last decade, the Iranians have invested considerably in its development. A 600-kilometer-long highway linking Chabahar to Zahidan in Iran’s north, only 240kms from Malik on the Iran-Afghanistan border, is already operational. India has also already spent $100 million on building a 220-kilometer Zaranj-Delaram highway since 2009 in the southwestern Nimroz province of Afghanistan which is 700 km away from southeastern Iran and can be easily extended to be linked to Chabahar.
The writer is a PhD candidate at QAU Islamabad