Is it possible to operationalize the Chabahar port by 2019?
According to Union minister Nitin Gadkari, India is trying to get the strategic Chabahar port in Iran operational by 2019, despite the dire threat of fresh US sanctions against Iran looming large in the air. While Gadkari's statement is bold and pretty ambitious, the fact remains that operationalizing the port by 2019 could face significant hurdles owing to US policy. Here's more.
Looking back: The Chabahar port project
Chabahar is Iran's only oceanic port, and consists of two separate ports - 'Shahid Kalantari' and 'Shahid Beheshti'. India and Iran first agreed to develop Shahid Beheshti in 2003, but the plans were marred by extant sanctions. In 2016, India and Iran signed several memorandums, under which, notably, India Ports Global Private Limited (IPGPL) would operate the newly-developed port for 10 years.
The strategic importance of the Chabahar port
The primary importance of the Chabahar port, from an Indian perspective, is that it allows India to maintain trade with land-locked Afghanistan and Iran by actively bypassing Pakistani ports. For Iran and Afghanistan, the Chabahar port project, the consequent rise in trade, and the India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment of around $8bn in the Chabahar Special Economic Zone, are major economic incentives.
Earlier also, the project had faced hurdles owing to sanctions
Earlier, in 2017, despite sanctions being lifted against Iran, IPGPL was unable to award a single tender. Major suppliers said they were unable to take part in bids on account of their banks not facilitating transactions pertaining to Iran, owing to the possibility of sanctions being imposed by the US. Thus, considering the present climate, India's Chabahar dreams might get delayed beyond 2019.