Economic Times: April, 2016
New Delhi: India, Afghanistan and Iran have finalised the Chabahar Agreement to operationalise the strategic port, giving New Delhi much-needed access to Afghanistan in the absence of transit rights through Pakistan.
The announcement comes as foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is in Tehran, discussing India's participation in Chabahar Port and other issues of connectivity and energy partnership. It is understood that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may visit Tehran in the near future.
According to a statement by the ministry of external affairs, the trio decided to expedite the transport and transit corridors agreement at a high level after completing necessary internal procedures in the three countries.
The second meeting of experts from India, Afghanistan and Iran was held on April 11 to finalise text of the agreement. "The draft agreement envisions trilateral cooperation for providing alternative access to seas to Afghanistan, inter alia for Afghanistan's trade with India," said the MEA.
"It will significantly enhance utilisation of Chabahar Port, contribute to economic growth of Afghanistan and facilitate better regional connectivity, including between India and connections to Afghanistan and central Asia. The agreement will be a strategic bulwark for greater flow of people and goods among the three countries, as well as in the region." Chabahar is being billed as India's gateway to Afghanistan and beyond, including central Asia, Russia and Europe.
Swaraj and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif agreed that commercial contract on Chabahar, along with modalities for extending it a $150-million credit line for making of jetties and berths, should be finalised soon. MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said India will also supply $400 million of steel rails. A team from Ircon International Ltd will visit Iran for discussions on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway link.
Oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan had announced $20 billion investment for the Chabahar port complex during his visit to Tehran last week.
Iran also said it fully supported India's desire to join the Ashgabat Agreement for connectivity and the two ministers reviewed progress made on the International North South Transport Corridor.
Zarif also evinced interest in Iran's participation in the Indian refinery sector. India has welcomed Tehran's decision to keep the Farzad-B gas field outside the auction basket while companies have been directed to complete contractual negotiations in a time-bound manner. An ONGC-led consortium had discovered Farzad-B in 2008 but was unable to proceed due to sanctions. Last year, ONGC submitted a proposal of $3 billion to Tehran for development of the field. Iran had earlier communicated their gas pricing formula and welcomed Indian investment in the Chabahar SEZ.
Swaraj and Zarif agreed that pending agreements on preferential trade, double taxation avoidance and the bilateral investment treaty be concluded on a priority basis.