From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Chabahar Port
Mains level : India's central Asia connectivity push
Central idea: The article discusses India’s plan to send 20,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port in Iran.
Why in new?
- Last year, the Indian side announced its partnership with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 MTs of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port.
UN World Food Programme
India’s Assistance to Afghanistan
- India has been providing humanitarian aid and support to Afghanistan for several years, including food and medical supplies.
- The latest shipment of wheat is a part of India’s continued efforts to assist Afghanistan during its humanitarian crisis.
About Chabahar Port
- In 2016, India signed a deal with Iran entailing $8 billion investment in Chabahar port and industries in Chabahar Special Economic Zone.
- The port is being developed as a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
- India has already built a 240-km road connecting Afghanistan with Iran.
- All this were expected to bring cargo to Bandar Abbas port and Chabahar port, and free Kabul from its dependence on Pakistan to reach the outer world.
- Completion of this project would give India access to Afghanistan and beyond to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Europe via the 7,200-km-long multi-modal North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
India’s strategic vision for Chabahar
When the first agreement for Chabahar was signed by then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003, the plan had a three-fold objective:
- To build India’s first offshore port and to project Indian infrastructure prowess in the Gulf
- To circumvent trade through Pakistan, given the tense ties with India’s neighbour and build a long term, sustainable sea trade route and
- To find an alternative land route to Afghanistan, which India had rebuilt ties with after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001
- Subsequently, PM Manmohan Singh’s government constructed the Zaranj -Delaram Highway in Afghanistan’s South.
- It would help connect the trade route from the border of Iran to the main trade routes to Herat and Kabul, handing it over to the Karzai government in 2009.
- In 2016, PM Modi travelled to Tehran and signed the agreement to develop Chabahar port, as well as the trilateral agreement for trade through Chabahar with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.
Commencement of operations
- Since the India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) authority took over the operations of the port in 2018, it has handled 215 vessels, 16,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) and four million tons of bulk and general cargo.
Why is it gaining importance?
- In the last few years, a fourth strategic objective for the Chabahar route has appeared, with China’s Belt and Road Initiative making inroadsin the region.
- The government hopes to provide Central Asia with an alternate route to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)through Iran for future trade.
Why is the Chabahar dream taking so long to realise?
- India’s quest for Chabahar has hit geopolitical road-blockafter road-block; the biggest issue has been over Iran’s relationship with western countries, especially the United States.
- In years when western sanctionsagainst Iran increased, the Chabahar project has been put on the back-burner.
- However, the nuclear talks resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)in 2015 came into being, the Chabahar port has been easier to work on.
- In 2018, the Trump administration put paid to India’s plans by walking out of the JCPOA and slapping new sanctions on dealing with Iran.
- India also snapped ties with Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover in August 2021, which put an end to the humanitarian aid of wheat and pulses that was being sent to Kabul via Chabahar.
- When India restarted wheat aid this year, it negotiated with Pakistan to use the land route to Afghanistan instead.
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