Port of Call: Jt Statement on First India-Central Asia Joint Working Group Meeting on Chabahar

The two-day meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group, which kicked off in Mumbai on Wednesday, was the first on Chabahar Port development. This meeting is a significant advance in strengthening connectivity between India, Central Asia and Iran.

The Port of Chabahar is strategically positioned as a commercial transit hub for the region. India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement establishing the International Transport and Transit Corridor (Chabahar Accord) with India in 2016, providing US$85 million in assistance and a US$150 million credit facility for the development of the Shahid -Beheshti terminals granted. India has also provided $25 million worth of equipment to support the port’s development, including six mobile port cranes.

Located in southeastern Iran on the Gulf of Oman, the seaport serves as the country’s only deep sea port and consists of two separate ports, Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti, each with five berths. It is of strategic importance to India as it is only 170 kilometers away from Port Gwadar in Pakistan.

Interestingly, the Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan also attended and emphasized the importance of the Port of Chabahar in providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and providing economic opportunities for Afghan businessmen and traders.

It was recently commissioned following supply chain disruptions following the Ukraine war. The port has also helped India deliver humanitarian aid to the region, particularly during the Covid pandemic.

India activated Chabahar to send aid to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. That decision was announced at the first meeting, held in cooperation with the United Nations World Food Program in Delhi, while India had sent some 40,000 tons of the 50,000 tons promised the year before, following an agreement with the government of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. The delivery had to be cut short after floods in Pakistan and the deadline granted by Pakistan had expired. India has also used the Chabahar route to send shipments of wheat to Afghanistan in the past prior to 2021.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari sought greater engagement from Central Asian nations in the Chabahar project. The Kyrgyz Republic envoy said the Chabahar port would cut the time from 35 days to just two weeks.

1. The first meeting of the India-Central Asia (JWG) Joint Working Group on Port of Chabahar was held in Mumbai on 12-13 April 2023. The meeting was chaired by the Secretary (ER), which was attended by deputy ministers and senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan. The special guests at the event were the country representative of the United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP), the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

2. During the meeting, the Managing Director of India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) made a comprehensive presentation on the facilities and current operations at Shahid Beheshti Terminal, Chabahar Port. The UNWFP country representative made a presentation on the ongoing cooperation between India and UNWFP in Afghanistan in the delivery of wheat aid. The Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stressed the importance of the Port of Chabahar in providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and in providing economic opportunities for Afghan businessmen and traders.

3. The Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran proposed to hold the next round of the Joint India-Central Asia (JWG) Working Group with the participation of the private sector in Iran. The participants welcomed the proposal.

4. The participants agreed on the following:

(a) Recognized the role played by the Shahid Behesti Terminal at the Port of Chabahar in facilitating the shipment of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. Since IPGL took over operations in December 2018, India has used the port to ship a total of 2.5 million tons of wheat and 2,000 tons of pulses to Afghanistan.

(b) noted that the further development of regional connectivity is essential for the improvement of trade and commerce between India and the Central Asian countries in connection with their landlocked nature and lack of land connections with India.

(c) Reaffirmed that connectivity initiatives should be consistent with international norms, rule of law and respect for international obligations, and should be based on mutually agreed principles of sustainable connectivity, transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for the sovereign and territorial integrity of all countries.

(d) stressed that the connectivity projects deserve priority attention and could be a power multiplier for trade and economic cooperation and contacts between countries and people.

(e) agreed that connectivity requires the active involvement of the private sector. To facilitate large-scale private investment in sustainable connectivity, the sides expressed their commitment to implement relevant international standards, ensure a level playing field for businesses and ensure mutual access to markets.

(f) At their request, the Indian side offered port management and logistics capacity building programs to the officials/relevant stakeholders of the participating countries.

5. The participants thanked the Republic of India for holding the first joint working group meeting on Chabahar Port Sharing in Mumbai and agreed to hold the next round of meetings at a mutually convenient time.

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