India’s commitment towards the development of the Chabahar port as a viable connectivity option with Central Asia is demonstrated by the government’s allocation of ₹100 crore for its development in the Budget for 2020-21, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has said.

“India, Iran and Afghanistan believe that Chabahar will become the fulcrum of connectivity for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan and further north to Central Asian states and for the landlocked Central Asia to find access to ocean through this port. In the Union Budget, the government has allocated ₹100 crore for the Chabahar Port for the fiscal 2020-21,” Jaishankar said at the launch of the India-Central Asia Business Council organised by industry body FICCI on Thursday.

Jaishankar said that great potential existed in enhancing trade and economic engagement between India and Central Asia. However, it faced the challenge of lack of efficient overland connectivity. India proposes to overcome this challenge through the Chabahar route, he said.

The Minister’s emphasis on the future of development of the Chabahar port is crucial especially after the US tightened its economic sanctions against Iran recently. While India’s oil trade with the Islamic nation has totally stopped, the US has not yet brought investments in the Chabahar port within the net of the sanctions.

The Chabahar Port commenced operations in December 2018. Since then, India has had more than 4,500 containers moving from India through Chabahar, as per government figures. Almost half a million tonne of cargo has transitted since the port was inaugurated

Jaishankar had met Iran’s Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the 19th India-Iran joint commission on December 22. 2019. During the meeting, both countries reviewed the “entire gamut” of bilateral cooperation and agreed on accelerating Chabahar project.

The Minister also said that India’s connectivity initiatives through the International North South Transport Corridor and the Ashgabat Agreement will continue.

Untapped potential

Jaishankar said that it was a matter of concern that India’s combined trade with the five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – remained well below $2 billion per annum.

“It is our fervent hope that the India-Central Asia Business Council would serve to spread the message among the industry and the business that India and Central Asia, as neighbours, need to trade with each other more, promote investment and highlight various opportunities which exist between us but have remained untapped,” he said.

The Council has prioritised some sectors for focused discussions based upon mutual interest and these include energy, pharmaceuticals, automotive, agro-processing, education, urban infrastructure and transport, civil aviation, IT and tourism.