Recently, during the ‘Maritime India Summit’ India has expressed its intention to include Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC) comprised of 13 countries and urged Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to join INSTC membership. The summit was attended by a number of regional officials, including ministers from Afghanistan, Armenia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Now, for context, first, understand what is INSTC?
International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC)
It is a multi-modal transport project established on 12 September 2000 in St. Petersburg by Iran, Russia and India to promote transport cooperation between member countries.
Later, it was expanded to include 11 new members in the INSTC – Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria (Observer).
It is a 7,200 km long multi-mode network of goods, rail and roadways to transport goods, which aims to reduce transportation costs between India and Russia by about 30% and reduce transit time by more than half of 40 days.
This corridor connects the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea through Iran and is connected to St. Petersburg and Northern Europe via the Russian Federation.
India has proposed to include Chabahar port in INSTC. The corridor passes through Iran’s largest port Bandar Abbas and also proposed that INSTC’s “eastern corridor” passing through land route in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
This proposal by India to include Chabahar in the INSTC was laid keeping in mind the possible easing of some sanctions by the United States to restore the status of negotiations with Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The establishment of an eastern corridor through Afghanistan will increase its capacity.India highlighted the role of Chabahar in recent years in terms of increasing humanitarian aid, emergency supplies and trade opportunities to Afghanistan and Iran.
Significance of Chabahar Port to India
It is located at the Gulf of Oman and is only 72 km far from Gwadar Port of Pakistan, developed by China.
It is the only Iranian port that has direct access to the Indian Ocean and has two separate ports – Shahid Beheshti and Shahid Kalantari.
Besides, Afghanistan, Iran and India signed a tripartite agreement to develop Chabahar port and to establish a trilateral transport and transit corridor in 2016.
Indian interest in this proposal
This is an important plan to increase India’s connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asian states. It will facilitate India’s role in the development of Afghanistan through infrastructure and education projects.
This opens a permanent alternative route for trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan , as Pakistan creates obstacles along the main route. China and Pakistan are trying to increase economic and trade cooperation through the ‘China-Pak Economic Corridor’ (CPEC) and Gwadar Port, Pakistan is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).
Chabahar Port is a major part of India’s Indo-Pacific Strategy which includes Eurasia along with the Indian Ocean region. Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan also see Chabahar port as a gateway to the Indian Ocean region.