The legendary 10th century Persian scholar-explorer-historian –chronicler Al-Biruni wrote that the sea coast of India began at the port of Chabahar, the eastern edge of Iran in a city then called Tis.
On Sunday, New Delhi reclaimed its geographical and strategic legacy in part, exporting a consignment of wheat to land-locked Afghanistan through the Iranian port that it jointly developed with Teheran. In the process, it circumvented and bypassed Pakistan, an artificial, a historical country that was created between historical neighbors India and Afghanistan.
The United States, which has had its own problems with Teheran, did not object to India’s use of the Iranian port in the interest of its stated objective of stabilizing Afghanistan. The fact the shipment occurred within days of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to the sub-continent suggested Washington’s consent.
Despite President Trump’s overt hostility towards Iranian leadership, Tillerson had said it was not the US intent to harm the Iranian people, and “nor is it our objective to interfere with legitimate business activities, whether they be from Europe, India, or agreements that in place that promote economic development to the benefit of our friends and allies.”
As much as economic development, India’s food supplies to Afghanistan is also humanitarian in nature, since Pakistan, playing the spoiler, has cut off the ancient land-route between Punjab and Afghanistan. Sunday’s wheat consignment to Afghanistan went from the Gujarat port of Kandla to Chabahar, from where it was taken by trucks to Afghanistan, putting Pakistan out of the picture.
The foreign ministers of Indian, Iran, and Pakistan flagged off the shipment. Prime Minister Modi was among those who tweeted his “congratulations to Afghanistan& Iran on Indian wheat shipment being flagged off from Kandla to Afghanistan through Chabahar.”
“I believe that this is the starting point of our journey to realize the full spectrum of connectivity — from culture to commerce, from traditions to technology, from investments to IT, from services to strategy and from people to politics,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said, indicating clearly that India will find ways to get around Pakistan’s blockade of Afghanistan.
Chabahar, which means “four springs” on account of its clement weather, was called Tis when Alexander the Great marched through the region. It is a mere 100 kilometers from Gwadar, a Pakistani port developed with Chinese assistance, on which the Islamabad-Beijing axis has pinned its strategic and economic hopes.
But such is the perceived toxicity of the duo, not to speak of the hostility of the local Baloch population in Pakistan to their exploitation, that Chabahar has had an easy leg up despite Washington’s problems with the Iranian leadership.
The new trade route also comes on the heels of an air freight corridor introduced between India and Afghanistan in June last year to provide greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market.
Although the Indian consignment of wheat will be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from Chabahar, India, Iran, and Afghanistan eventually intend to use a rail corridor from Chabahar to Zahedan, close to the Afghan border, that has been co-financed by Teheran and New Delhi and built by India’s Ircon at the cost of more than a billion dollars.