Port of Chabahar: a new hub between India and Iran in the making

Photo: Wikimedia CommonsAmirhossein Nikroo.

The Iranian port of Chabahar could become a transshipment hub connecting India, Iran and Central Asia. This is not a novelty. However, a new step was taken in that direction by India, which has proposed to include the Chabahar port in the International North South Transport Corridor. Why is this such an important step?

The International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a 7,200 kilometer-long freight route connecting India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road. The line should reduce journey times between Mumbai and Moscow from forty to fourteen days. The main objective of the corridor is to provide an alternative to the traditional routes carried out by sea through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea.

The INSTC is also an important connectivity project for Central Asia. Once the corridor is complete, it provides easy access into Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, countries that are of relevance to India and other South-Asian countries. Especially the port of Chabahar is an important junction, due its close proximity to India.

Why Chabahar?

Orginially, the INSTC runs via the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. This busy port in the south of Iran is already connected by rail, an advantage over the more eastwardly situated port of Chabahar. However, Chabahar is located much closer to India than Bandar Abbas. Moreover, US sanctions do not apply at this port, explained by Amir Asra from the Iranian company MAPNA Locomotive in RailFreight Live earlier. The main disadvantage is the lack of a railway connection.

India has been keen on promoting the use of the port as a transshipment hub, and with its latest proposal, it is enforcing this role. The proposal came along with the formation of the quadrilateral working group on joint use of Chabahar port. This group is likely to meet later this year. However, India has been negotiating better use of the port since 2003. In 2014, Iran and India signed an MOU, which translated in a ten-year contract for ecquiping and operating the port.

Benefits for the wider region

The inclusion of the port is important for many countries in the region. “Bangladesh would be able to increase its export to Iran and seek investment from Iran using Chabahar port”, commented Pathik Hasan, a Bangladeshi journalist on international affairs. “Bangladesh and Central Asia can be connected through this route. Bangladesh can easily import cotton from Central Asian states, wheat from Russia and exports its leather, apparel and potatoes.”

Whether the port will actually start functioning as a transshipment hub remains dependent on the efforts of Iran, which will have to complete the railway line to the port eventually. President of Iran Hassan Rouhani was reported saying last month that the vital railway link would be partially opened in the coming months, as it would “connect the port to the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan through Inche Burun and eventually Astara”. However, this has been on the agenda for quite some time. Perhaps the pressure of India helps moving the new Iranian government towards realisation of the project.

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Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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