The Iran-India-Afghanistan riddle By Vijay Prashad
Asia Times, August 12, 2012
At the sidelines of the 16th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran, Iran, the governments of Afghanistan, India and Iran will hold a small conclave. Commercial issues are at the top of the agenda. Not far down the list, however, are significant political matters. These are of great interest as the Israelis and the United States power up their aircraft for a bombing raid on Iran’s Fordo nuclear bunker, and as the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) begin their obligatory withdrawal from more than a decade-long occupation in Afghanistan.
Geography is one of the greatest reasons for the trade between these countries. In May, Afghanistan's Commerce and Industries Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahady and Iran's Ambassador to Afghanistan Abolfazl Zohrevand signed an agreement to deepen the trade ties between these countries. The main issue before them was use of the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran. About 50 hectares of land beside the port have been set aside for the construction of a hub for Afghan traders.
Few people paid any attention to this pact, although it has much broader implications than for these Afghan traders. For the past 10 years, the Indian government has been working with the Iranians to upgrade the Chabahar port, with the expectation that eventually Indian ships will dock there and unload cargo destined not only for the Iranian market, but crucially for the Afghan and Central Asian markets.
The Chabahar port would make the land route across Pakistan unnecessary for Indian trade bound for the lucrative Central Asian market. In 2003, Afghanistan, India and Iran signed their first agreement regarding this project. Iran was to build a road from Chabahar to the Afghan border, and India was then to build a road from there to Zarang/Delaram, which is on the Kandahar-Herat highway. In other words, Chabahar would be linked to Kabul and to points north. The roads are now ready, and Chabahar is prepared to be the main transit point for Indian goods.
Chabahar comes from the words char (four) and bahar (Spring), suggesting that the port has four seasons of springtime. It is a major warm water port and will allow goods to travel into Central Asia throughout the year.
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