Iran gets Afghan transit trade

Editorial: Iran gets Afghan transit trade
Daily Times, January 24, 2009

On Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Foreign Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee opened a new road that will help link Afghanistan with the port of Chabahar in Iran and “challenge Pakistani dominance of trade routes into the landlocked country”. The 220km road in the southwest Afghan province of Nimroz is the culmination of the $1.1 billion Indian reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan, if it remains wedded to its old strategy, is fated to be a loser.

The road, entirely funded by India with $15 million, runs from Delaram in Nimroz to Zaranj on the Iranian border, which connects to the Iranian port of Chabahar. The route is clearly intended as an alternative route if one looks at the concessions already offered at Chabahar. Afghan exporters will use the port with a 90 percent discount on port fees, a 50 percent discount on warehousing charges, and Afghan vehicles will be allowed full transit rights on the Iranian road system. In consequence, Pakistan has already reduced some of its duties at Karachi port in anticipation.

The tripartite deal was struck in 2003 and forms a part of Iran’s effort to become transit terrain for the states of Central Asia. And Chabahar has been built to separate European and Russian trade which is carried out at the Bandar Abbas port. Chabahar will also handle Indian goods heading for Afghanistan and Central Asia on the basis of concessions similar to the ones given to Afghanistan. This is a part of the change that came after 9/11, the failure of Pakistan’s policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistan was dominant in Afghanistan in the 1990s on the basis of the Taliban regime it nurtured, climaxed by the hijacking of an Indian airliner to Kandahar in 1999; but today Afghanistan’s neighbours plus India, adversely affected by the Taliban regime, call the shots there.

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