Tehran: The first phase of Chabahar port was on Sunday inaugurated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, opening up for India a new strategic transit route to Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.
The port on the Gulf of Oman, jointly developed by India, is of great strategic importance as Pakistan does not allow India to ship goods through its territory. It also poses a challenge for under construction Gwadar port, some 80km away in neighbouring Pakistan, which is being built with Chinese investment.
Iranian state TV said the inauguration was attended by dignitaries from India, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. The extension includes five new piers, two of them for containers allowing cargo vessels with up to 100,000-ton captaincy to dock.
India has framed its involvement in Chabahar's development as primarily about establishing a gateway to Afghanistan, more than Iran itself.
The government has committed $500 million to the Chabahar port along with associated roads and rail lines that will crack open a trade and transport route to landlocked Afghanistan, as well as the resource-rich countries of central Asia.
The Centre plans to send seven shipments of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar by the end of January, officials said. The wheat will be trucked from Chabahar to western Afghanistan.
The shipments are meant to demonstrate the route's viability, officials said, and the plan is to broaden the cargo flow before the port is fully operational by the end of next year.
Rouhani, meanwhile, downplayed the rivalry with Pakistan in his inauguration speech and said the port will bring “more engagement and unity” among regional countries.
“We should go after positive competition,” he said. “We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome Gwadar’s development.”
He said Iran also plans to link the port to the country’s railroad network to facilitate transit of goods to neighbouring landlocked Central Asian countries, as well as open a route to eastern and northern Europe through Russia.
(With inputs from agencies)