India on Thursday proposed the inclusion of Iran’s Chabahar port in the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a 7,200km multi-mode route spanning 13 countries, and also called for Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to be made part of the corridor.
Chabahar port, where an Indian state-run firm operates a terminal, is a key part of India’s plans to enhance connectivity to Afghanistan and the Central Asian states. The port played an important role in shipping humanitarian aid to Afghanistan amid the Covid-19 pandemic and India recently supplied heavy cranes to boost its capabilities.
Addressing the virtual “Chabahar Day” event organised on the margins of the Maritime India Summit 2021, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and minister of state for shipping Mansukh Mandaviya spoke about plans to include the Iranian port in INSTC.
Jaishankar welcomed the interest shown by Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in joining the multilateral corridor and said: “Establishing an eastern corridor through Afghanistan would maximise its potential.”
He added, “I am hopeful that during the INSTC coordination council meeting, member states would agree to the expansion of the INSTC route to include the Chabahar port and also agree on expanding the membership of this project.”
Mandaviya proposed the meeting of the INSTC coordination council meeting, which was to be held last year but was put off because of the pandemic, should be held virtually to take things forward.
“Chabahar port is part of our shared commitment to the peace, stability and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan,” Mandaviya said, adding the port had helped Afghanistan diversity its export opportunities.
The INSTC project, which includes India, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz republic, Tajikistan, Oman, Syria and Ukraine, was first proposed in 2000 to cut costs and time in moving cargo and to improve connectivity in the region between Russia and the Central Asian states and India.
Though there were dry runs on some routes in 2014, the project has been slow to take off. Despite renewed focus on INSTC by India and Russia, work was again hit by the pandemic.
Jaishankar highlighted Chabahar’s role in recent years in sending Indian humanitarian aid and emergency supplies to Afghanistan and Iran and in opening up trade opportunities. The Chabahar Day event reflects India’s commitment to work with regional stakeholders to enhance connectivity and provide unhindered access to the sea to the landlocked Central Asian states, he said.
“The Chabahar port has not only emerged as a commercial transit hub for the region but also facilitated the delivery of humanitarian assistance, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic…India utilised the Chabahar port to ship 75,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian food assistance to Afghanistan in September 2020,” he said.
India helped Iran to fight the worst locust invasion of the past 25 years by supplying 25 tonnes of the drug Malathion in June 2020 through Chabahar. The second batch of 25 tonnes of Malathion recently reached Chabahar, he added.
Afghanistan, Iran and India signed a tripartite agreement on developing Chabahar port and setting up a trilateral transport and transit corridor in 2016. India then set up India Ports Global Limited to operate the Shahid Behesti terminal at Chabahar.
Since the Indian firm began operations in December 2018, the port has handled 123 vessels, 13,752 containers and 1.8 million tonnes of cargo, Mandaviya said. There has also been an increase in the average monthly calls by merchant vessels, and 110,000 tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of pulses have been shipped to Afghanistan.
Iran’s transport minister Mohammad Eslami called for more lines of credit from India to build and equip Chabahar port and to complete infrastructure for transport networks in the region. There are plans to expand the Shahid Behesti terminal’s capacity from 8.5 million tonnes to 13 million tonnes, he said.
Ministers from Afghanistan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia participated in the Chabahar Day event.