Chabahar Agreement: Path to the Future India-Iran Relation

By signing a slew of pacts including Chabahar Agreement with Iran, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during his two day visit to Iran not only catered a momentous boost to New Delhi – Tehran relations but also increased India’s strategic depth in West Asia. In fact these pacts are going to provide New Delhi an unprecedented access not only to Iran and Afghanistan but also to Central Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe through a network of ports, rail lines and roads.

Chabahar Agreement

Of the 12 MoUs and agreements penned down and signed by India and Iran, the most significant is the development and operation of the Chabahar port that is situated in the Southern Coast of Iran.

The Chabahar Agreement as it is named by the President of Iran, is going to provide, through the use of the south-eastern Iran port of Chabahar, New Delhi the gateway into regions which were previously hard to reach. It is so the Chabahar Agreement is considered as ambitious overseas infrastructure initiative India has ever attempted.

The agreements consist of a commercial contract to evolve Chabahar port that would, as it is proposed, connect the port to Zahedan on Iran’s border with Afghanistan and Pakistan through a railway line and a transit agreement to transport goods into Afghanistan.

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What did the two leaders said on the occasion

PM Shri Narendra Modi was quite aware that Tehran took India’s promises with caution due to frequent past delays. So it took the PM of India to read out a Persian Ghalib couplet from a prepared text at the Sa’dabad Presidential Palace which if translated, however PM Modi himself translated it there, reds: “Once we make up our mind, the distance between Kashi (Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s Constituency) and Kashan (a major Iranian city) is only half a step.” On this gesture of PM Narendra Modi his counterpart, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, responded with a smile showing a sign of breaking the ice in the relation between Iran and India.

This visit, many persons related to foreign affairs think, should have come earlier, as Iran hoped too, immediate after the US and European Union lifted sanctions connected to Tehran’s nuclear programme in January, 2016.

Speaking on the occasion President of Iran Rouhani acknowledged India as an ‘old friend’ and Modi stressed that the “dosti” between the nations is not new.

When the PM Modi, recalling Iran’s help after the 2001 Gujarat’s earthquake,  said India was “proud” of standing by Iran in its difficult times. On this, making the mood of Tehran obvious, Rouhani made it clear that it was the lifting of sanctions that hadcreated the right environment” for an elevation of ties. He further said that India’s commitments on investments in Chabahar could emerge as a symbol of the bilateral partnership. His cautious approach clearly indicated the tempered expectations from a project first discussed in 2001.

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Contracts signed by India and Iran

Under the Supervision of Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, officials of India and Iran also signed a separate agreement under which India committed a $150 million soft loan to Tehran, apart from a promised investment of $85 million under the Chabahar commercial contract.

The loan is also aimed at developing Chabahar which, along with other pacts, is going enable India to bypass Pakistan while increasing trade with partners in the region. Surpassing the limit of agreements the PM of India announced that India would consider investments in the Chabahar port development project worth upto $500 million.

In fact the commercial contracts inked on Monday consists the commitment on the part of India to transfer the soft loan in four months and to develop two terminals and five berths in 18 months.

According to Chabahar Agreement Cargo is to be shipped out from the beginning of third year of the contract that is indicative of the strict timeliness aimed at wining Iran’s trust in India’s commitment.

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Cause of Iran push for timely implementation of pacts

The Chabahar port and connectivity project main, part of the Chabahar Agreement, has been a talking point for over a decade. In this context, in 2003, the first trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan was signed; in 2012, another trilateral MoU was signed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, the first framework agreement occurred only in 2015 when Nitin Gadkari travelled to Iran. PM Narendra Modi has scaled the final deal on Monday, by signing the pacts, to construct and operate the port.

It is imperative to know, in the context of this historical Chabahar Agreement that India had completed the construction of Zaranj-Delaram highway right by the year 2009, but connecting to the port was not done, leaving the India’s grand dream of linking to Central Asia unfulfilled as the project is still in progress.

Importance of this MoU can be gauged from the fact that the President of Iran while emphasizing the significance of the pact said that the “ Chabahar Agreement ” had shown the region that cooperation lone was the path to the future. He emphasized it by saying, “Today will be known as Chabahar Day.”

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