By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: In an attempt to counter growing China propaganda on its involvement in West Asia, India today said it was still part of the ambitious rail link project from Iran‘s port of Chabahar to Afghanistan.
India cited the July 20 meeting between its Ambassador in Iran Gaddam Dharmendra and Deputy Minister Roads and Head of Iran Railways Saeed Rasouli to review ongoing co-operation on the Chabahar–Zahedan railway to point out that discussions on the key project were on and that India was still in the game.
Earlier, there were reports that Iran had excluded India from the rail link project under the influence of China which has signed a 25 year mega trade deal with the West Asian country, which is a long time ally of India.
“The Iran minister said that vested interests were behind reports that Iran excluded India from Chabahar-Zahedan railway,” India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
State-owned Indian Railway construction technology companies, IRCON International Limited and RITES, have been given contract to develop the second phase of the project and were to develop the rail link connecting the south-eastern port city of Chabahar to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan region, and from Zahedan to Sarakhs at the border with Turkmenistan.
Srivastava said the IRCON had done a feasibility study of the said rail link and had discussed in detail the financial challenges being faced by Iran. The matter was subsequently reviewed in Dec. 2019 at the 19th India-Iran joint meeting and it was agreed that Iran would nominate an authorised entity to finalise all outstanding technical and financial issues.
The port was operationalised in 2016 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Iran, as part of India’s commitment to the project since 2003. An Indian company has been operating the port since 2018 and has been scaling up traffic there. Proactive measures are in progress so that the port may be used to serve areas in Afghanistan and Central Asian regions.