Two major connectivity projects with Iran including the Chabahar-Zahedan rail project and the International North-South Corridor (INSTC) remain on tracks, say sources. India, along with Afghanistan, has played a critical role in the development of these projects in Iran as it will help in connecting even Central Asia. “The project helped India overcome the psychological and physical barrier that it faces in its western border thanks to Pakistan,” opines an expert. India, Iran and Afghanistan have been working together on this project as it is the most viable route providing connection to Afghanistan and potentially to Central Asia.
Both projects are critical to the Indo-Iran relations. However, “the progress has been slow due to the US sanctions imposed, as well as several other reasons. India is very much part of the 628 km of the railway project Chabahar – Zahedan port and rail project and the International North-South Corridor (INSTC) which goes from Mumbai to Moscow, passing through Iran,” said sources.
One of the major issues that have caused the delay in the completion of the projects are the sanctions imposed by the US on Iran which include commodities too, because of which it became difficult for India to supply the steel for required for various structures.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited that country in 2016, the two sides had inked an MoU on the construction of Chabahar-Zahedan railway line. Once this railway line is ready it will easy for the trade between India-Afghanistan as well as the CIS country. This is part of the transit and transportation corridor of the trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan.
According to a statement released at the time, this MoU was signed between IRCON of India and Construction, Development of Transport and Infrastructure Company (CDTIC) of Iran.
Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi, tells Financial Express Online, “India has not paid serious attention to its connectivity projects. It has largely been dependent on the existing road and rail networks of the respective countries. Its success in developing transport and communication networks even in its neighbourhood has been dismal. In that context, the port of Chabahar was touted as one of the flagship projects of India in its extended neighbourhood. It ensured India’s good relations with Iran, and provided ground access to Afghanistan, a country where it has high security and geopolitical stakes.”
“In its larger plan, the idea was to connect Chabahar through the railway project to the 7,200 km multi-mode International North-South Transport Corridor to approach Central Asia, trans-Caucasia, Russia, and Europe,” Prof Kumar says.
The straight-line distance between Chabahar port and Gwadar port, developed by China in southern Pakistan, is less than a hundred kilometre. That gave an added security impetus to this project.
“But the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration affected the viability and future course of this project. With the high amount of diplomatic pressure, India managed to save Chabahar port and its rail project from the US sanctions, but some ambiguities remain regarding suppliers of steel and other equipment for rail construction- who may come under sanctions. Tehran has been putting pressure on New Delhi to initiate the rail construction, but India is cautious and risk-aversive. It hopes that if there is a change of regime in Washington by the end of the year, the rules of sanctions may ease off, and India can join the project at that stage. There are too many ifs and buts, and the risk-avoidance diplomacy has not served India well in the region,” Prof Rajan concludes.