OPINION | Iran, India & Afghanistan Trilateral Trade Agreement : Changing the Course of History
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OPINION | Iran, India & Afghanistan Trilateral Trade Agreement : Changing the Course of History

By Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi 
Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Issues, Iran

OPINION | Iran, India & Afghanistan Trilateral Trade Agreement : Changing the Course of History

The concurrent visits to Iran by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan’s President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani have opened new gates of cooperation between Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan through the signing of the trilateral agreement for the development of Iran’s Chabahar port city, which is located along the Makran coast. Of course, this project is not the sole driving force for the expansion of regional relations among these three countries. There are also more favorable grounds for regional cooperation among these countries, which include, among other things, the North-South Transportation Corridor. However, advantages and limitations faced for the expansion of regional relations should be discussed through a more realistic approach.

From the viewpoint of India, development of relations with Iran revolves around two main axes, which include easier access to energy resources, in addition to access to consumption markets in Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. Achievement of this goal depends on investment in Iran's Chabahar port and construction of railroad and roads in order to connect Chabahar port to Afghanistan and from there to countries in Central Asia. India has declared its readiness to invest USD 20 billion in this project. Afghanistan and some landlocked countries in Central Asia also aim to get out of their landlocked situation by facilitating imports and exports through Iran’s Chabahar port. The Iranian government, for its part, has allocated about 50 hectares of land along the Makran shoreline to Afghan businesspeople in order to establish their own facilities there.

Chabahar port is located about 60-70 kilometers from Pakistan’s Gwadar port along the Makran coast. It has drawn a lot of attention from India and Afghanistan because it makes both countries needless of using Pakistan’s route and, at the same time, is important in regional rivalries between India and China. China has been already establishing infrastructural facilities in Pakistan’s Gwadar port, which is part of the project to connect Indian Ocean’s shores to the city of Kashghar in the big Chinese province of Xinjiang.

This country aims through investing about USD 46 billion in Pakistan in the next 10 years to open a new way from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf through which a large part of the energy resources needed by China passes. A transportation line connecting Gwadar to Kashghar through road and railroad is to be established and in addition to that line, a gas pipeline is planned to run from Gwadar to Kashghar in the future.

Therefore, it can be seen that at least part of India’s willingness to make investment in development of Iran's Farzad B gas field, which is part of Iran's oil and gas industry and whose contract will be possibly finalized during Modi’s visit to Tehran, is related to rivalries between India and China, and Iran for its part, has not ignored this opportunity. India’s increasing need for energy to boost the development of its national economy, which has already experienced a growth rate of seven percent, provides Iran with a golden opportunity to enter into expanded relations with India and try to meet its own national interests in this way. At the same time, Indian oil and gas companies have both necessary capital and technology and are also willing in line with their strategic plan to invest in the development of energy resources. However, it should be noted that India’s experience with regard to the Peace Pipeline, which was supposed to take Iran's natural gas first to Pakistan and then India, was not positive despite the country’s extreme and increasing need to natural gas fuel, and therefore, it should be cautiously approached in this regard. In addition, it must be noted that regional relations are basically shaped on the basis of common interests and become lasting within the framework of such interests. The present conditions are very suitable for the establishment of such relations and Iran, India, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries can form a regional bloc with Chabahar port at its heart.

Apart from that, India can access Russia, Eastern Europe, and even Western Europe through the North-South Corridor taking into account that a primary agreement on the establishment of this corridor has been already reached among three countries of India, Russia and Iran. If this corridor is made operational, it will slash transportation costs by about 30 percent and lead to considerable saving in transportation time as well.

Therefore, India and Afghanistan both are badly in need of Iran's transportation route and the Islamic Republic can make the most of this strategic advantage as a driving force to push ahead with its national and regional development. This is especially true taking into account that this geographical region is marked with underdevelopment and poverty and this fact is undeniable. For its turn, this poverty has helped foster growth of extremist groups around the pivot of ethnicity or ideological ideas. This is why Modi has been discussing extremism and terrorism during his negotiations at Tehran. Providing necessary ground for peace and stability in Afghanistan, which is currently plagued with war and crisis and ideological radicalism, is of interest to both Iran and India. The presence of Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani, concurred with Modi’s visit to Tehran, was very important in this regard and eventually it provided an opportunity which has not been wasted.

Source: Farheekhtegan Newspaper http://www.farheekhtegan.ir/ Translated By: Iran Review.Org