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India Takes Over Operation At Iran's Strategic Chabahar Port

IRAN -- Security guards with their sniffer dogs patrol in front of a cargo ship during the inauguration ceremony of the newly built extension in the port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, southeastern Iran, near the Pakistani border, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017

The Indian government has officially assumed the responsibility of Chabahar Port in Sistan and Baluchestan province, southeast Iran.

It is the first time that India will be operating a port outside its territory, Times of India reported on Monday, January 7.

“The Government of India took over the operations of a part of Shahid Beheshti Port, Chabahar, in Iran during the Chabahar Trilateral Agreement meeting held there on December 24, 2018,” the Indian Shipping Ministry said in a statement.

The heads of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Indian, and Afghanistan delegation jointly inaugurated the office of the Indian SPV, India Ports Global Chabahar Free Zone (IPGCFZ) at Chabahar. “The physical take-over of the terminal area, cargo handling equipment, and Office building were completed by December 29, 2018,” the statement said. Commercial operations at the port had already begun when a Cyprus registered bulk carrier at Chabahar with 72,458 MT of corn cargo berthed on December 30 at Chabahar.

Six days earlier, based on a trilateral agreement signed on December 24, 2018, Indian government the Islamic Republic had officially turned over the responsibility of operating Chabahar port to the Indian government.

Prior to assuming the new responsibility, India had invested $100 million for constructing a road that connects western Afghanistan to the strategic port of Chabahar.

Under an earlier agreement between India and Iran, India is to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with a capital investment of $85.00 million on a 10-year lease.

Furthermore, India has allocated $500 million to develop the port on the Sea of Oman.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani had inaugurated the Chabahar operation December 2017, which provides a new strategic route connecting Iran, India, and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan believes that India's dominant presence in Chabahar is a response to Islamabad's 2013 agreement to hand over the Gwadar Port to the New Delhi's archenemy, China.

Chabahar is approximately 150 km from the Pakistani deep-sea port, Gwadar and some in Pakistan regard its development by India as strategic competition with Gwadar.

Indian media have welcomed the news of handing over Chabahar to New Delhi, insisting, "The Chabahar port is being considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by India, Iran, and Afghanistan with central Asian countries."

Branding the agreement as a victory for New Delhi, Indian news outlets say, "The port is being considered crucial for trade among the three countries (Afghanistan, India, and Iran) in the wake of Pakistan denying transit access to India."

In fact, through Iranian port, Chabahar, India gets easy access overland route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, Hindustan Times maintained last May.

In the meantime, the Islamic Republic's recent international agreements, including granting exclusive fishing rights to the Chinese companies and the Caspian Sea Agreement signed on August 12, 2018, between five littoral states, Republic of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Iran has triggered a barrage of criticism in Iran.

The local fishermen in southern Iran have been complaining that, with the presence of Chinese fishing trawlers, they have lost the means of their livelihood.

Moreover, citing the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the opponents of the recent Caspian Sea agreement argue that the new agreement will practically eliminate the rights Iran had secured by a joint Russo-Perse agreement in 1920.

President Rouhani has promised to present the Caspian Sea agreement to Majlis (parliament) for consideration. Nevertheless, almost four months after its approval by the Presidents of the Caspian Sea's littoral states, it is not yet clear that it has been delivered to Majlis, or not.

Times Of India, Economic Times, Pak Observer