Chabahar port to play crucial role in boosting Afghan economy
KABUL (Pajhwok): The Chabahar port in southeastern Iran can play a crucial role in Afghanistan’s economic and trade development as the closest and best access point to the Indian Ocean and Iran has devised serious plans to turn the port into a transit hub for immediate access to markets in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and Central Asia.
At the head of a high level delegation, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah this week visited the port during his three day official visit to the neighouring country.
The Afghan delegation in their talks with their Iranian hosts remained largely focused on seeking an end to harassment of Afghan refugees in Iran, providing them legal stay and other facilities including education and early access to cases of Afghan prisoners in Iranian jails.
The Afghan delegation also stressed the need for paving the ground for Afghan traders to invest in the Chabahar port besides issuing visas to Afghan traders. Key projects like railroads between the two countries and other economic development activities also came up for discussion.
But the Iranian side mostly focused their conversations on the fight against Islamic State or Daesh group, prevention of production and smuggling of narcotics, Helmand waters flow into Iran, illegal border crossing into Iran and facilitating Iranian companies to invest in Afghanistan.
Addressing a gathering at the Chabahar port, Abdullah said Afghanistan’s current politics evolved around economic development and Iran remained Kabul’s top priority of its foreign policy.
Importance of Chabahar for Afghanistan
Abdullah, during his visit to Chabahar, said the port had a great importance for Afghanistan, India and central Asian countries and what he saw at the port would encourage Afghan traders to make investments at the port.
He said Chabahar port was the closest and cheap transit trade route for a landlocked country like Afghanistan, which would be turned into an important bridge between Chabahar and central Asian countries.
He said the port besides improving trade relations would also further strengthen brotherhood among Afghanistan, Iran and India.
He said it would be for the first time Afghanistan would find access to the ocean through Chabahar to export Afghan goods to other countries of the world.
Abdullah said the port provided the Afghan traders a chance to export their goods to foreign countries from 10 to 20 days earlier than through other ports with $500 to $1000 reduced costs.
He said another advantage of the port was that Afghan traders would pay little customs duty and other taxes and loading and unloading of goods would take place in a quickly manner. He said Chabahar port was 600 kilometres shorter than the Abbas port in Iran.
The port director, Hamid Ali Mubaraki, said for Afghanistan, Chabhar had the importance of oxygen and could leave behind Afghanistan’s and Iran’s rivals. He said the port would prove effective for central Asian countries through Afghanistan.
Bilateral and trilateral aspects of Chabahar
Taking early advantage of the port and making investment are basic measures to be taken for connecting Afghanistan, India and Iran.
In the trilateral subject, India has so far invested $58 million in the port and in the bilateral subject (Afghanistan and Iran), the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and the Independent Chabahar Organisation have signed a document that calls for giving a specific location for Afghan traders, passengers and goods.
According to documents available with Pajhwok, Iran will hand over 50 hectors of land at the port to Afghanistan to use it for trade activities.
A number of Afghan traders at the port said Chabahar port was the most effective trade route for them, but others complained about behavior of Iranian officials.
Abdul Wahab, one of them, told Pajwhok Afghan News the port was the best trader route for Afghans as it provided them a golden chance to make investment and expand their trade.
He said the investment by Afghan traders at the port was increasing with each passing day and so far more than 100 Afghan companies had made investments and another 350 companies were ready to follow suit.
He said residents of the area treated Afghan traders nicely, something that encouraged Afghans to make investment at the port.
Another Afghan trader at the port, Hakimi, said the ground for investment had been paved for them and they were trying to flourish their businesses.
But there were some problems which they would share with the visiting Afghan officials for discussion with Iranian officials, he said.
Nearly 60 traders attended a special meeting with Abdullah Abdullah at the port. The meeting agreed that the port provided unique investment opportunities for Afghan traders who would make considerable investment with their government’s support on the condition if some of their problems were resolved by the Iranian government.
After listening to their proposals, gains and problems, Dr. Abdullah told the traders that he had discussed with Iranian officials in detail the provision of all facilities to Afghan traders at the port. He said the Iranian officials had responded in the affirmative.
Abdullah, who insisted on the importance of the Chabahar port, also identified some shortcomings at the facility.
He said there were concerns that the port could provoke regional and international sensitivities. The port was little known in the world for being new and lacked international transport code and enough space for loading and unloading ships.
Hamid Ali Mubaraki and the governor of Sistan Baluchestan province in their meeting with Abdullah stressed enhanced security on the road leading to Chabahar port inside Afghanistan, apparently worried about the port’s closeness to Pakistan.
The Afghan delegation also shared some proposals with Iranian officials about the port. The delegation proposed that the port should be used as alternate seaport and Afghan traders be encouraged to benefit from the land at the port.
The delegation called for buying cargo ships for Afghanistan and export of food, drinks and fruits through Herat-Chabahar route to the United Arab Emirates.
They also demanded the extension of railroads between Herat and Turkmenistan, Zaranj and Kabul and in this regard benefitting from India’s financial support.
The port is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province of Iran bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Actual residents of the area are Balochs. The port, considered one of Iran’s major one, was established about 40 years ago.
Its location lies in the Gulf of Oman. It is the only Iranian port with direct access to the ocean. The port was partially built by India in the 1990s to provide access to Afghanistan and Central, bypassing Pakistan.
The port is spread over 11 kilometres of area and is seven metres above the sea surface and has 300 kilometres long sea border.
There are two important ports in Chabahar --- Shahid Kalantary and Shaheed Behshati --- with each having the capacity to handle 50,000 and 70,000 tonnes of cargo ships. India is also eyeing trade with Europe via the port.
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