The first meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group on Chabahar Port started on Wednesday (12 April), in Mumbai.
The two-day meeting will be attended by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, along with special invitees — Iran and the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP).
The Working Group was a key outcome of the Delhi Declaration of the first India-Central Asia summit held in January last year. The key issue being discussed here would be the Central Asian Republics’ (CARs) greater involvement in the Chabahar port, being developed by India and Iran.
The Chabahar port is a strategically located port in the coastal town of Chabahar in the Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran. It is located on the south-eastern tip of Iran and is the only open water port in Iran.
Notably, it is very close to the port of Gwadar, being developed by China as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in Pakistan.
Chabahar was developed jointly by India and Iran as part of the International Transport and Transit Corridor (Chabahar Corridor), providing connectivity for the region.
India is also developing a railway link from the Chabahar port to the border town of Zahedan, which will be extended across the border via road to the town of Zaranj in Afghanistan.
It would provide much-needed water access to the landlocked nations of Central Asia, including Afghanistan. India, on the other hand, is looking to gain access to Central Asia and further to Russia and Europe via the multi-modal International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), being jointly developed with Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
It was recently operationalised after supply chain disruptions following the Ukraine war.
The port has also helped India provide humanitarian assistance to the region, especially during the COVID pandemic.
The port, initially developed by India to gain access to Central Asia while bypassing Pakistan, will be used to send 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan given the continuing food crisis in the country.
Notably, Pakistan had created bureaucratic obstacles causing considerable delays in facilitating the transfer of wheat consignments over the land route through its borders.
At the centre of the discussions in the meeting would be the development of the first phase of the Shahid Behesti Terminal (SBT). India has committed a total grant of $85 million and a credit facility of $150 million for the SBT. India has also supplied six mobile harbour cranes and other equipment worth $25 million.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari sought greater engagement of Central Asian nations in the Chabahar project. The envoy of the Kyrgyz Republic said that the Chabahar port would reduce shipping time from 35 days to just two weeks.
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