Chabahar Port (Persian: بندر چابهار) is a seaport in Chabahar located in southeastern Iran, on the Gulf of Oman. It serves as Iran's only oceanic port, and consists of two separate ports named Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti, each of which has five berths.
India-Iran-Afghanistan MoU and plans have committed at least $21bn to Chabahar-Hajigak corridor, including $85m for Chabahar port development by India, $150m line of credit by India to Iran, $8bn India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in Chabahar Special Economic Zone, $11-billion Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan, and India's $2bn commitment to Afghanistan for developing supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigaj railway, with potential for several times more trade via connectivity to 7,200-km-long multi-mode North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) connecting to Europe and Turkey, R297 Amur highway and Trans-Siberian Highway across Russia, and planned Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif railway providing access to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Chabahar Port also provides direct access to India's Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan. Chabahar route will result in 60% reduction in shipment costs and 50% reduction in shipment time from India to Central Asia.
Development of the port was first proposed in 1973 by the last Shah of Iran, though development was delayed by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The first phase of the port was opened in 1983 during the Iran–Iraq War as Iran began shifting seaborne trade east towards the Pakistani border in order to decrease dependency on ports in the Persian Gulf which were vulnerable to attack by the Iraqi Air Force.
India and Iran first agreed to plans to further develop Shahid Beheshti port in 2003, but did not do so on account of sanctions against Iran. As of 2016, the port has ten berths. In May 2016, India and Iran signed a bilateral agreement in which India would refurbish one of the berths at Shahid Beheshti port, and reconstruct a 600 meter long container handling facility at the port. The port is intended to provide an alternative for trade between India and Afghanistan. This port is 800 kilometers closer to Afghanistan than Pakistan's Karachi port. The port handled 2.1 million tons of cargo in 2015, which is planned to be upgraded to handle 8.5 million tons by 2016, and to 86 million tons in the future.
In July 2016, India began shipping USD$150 million worth of rail tracks to Chabahar to develop the port container tracks and build USD$1.6 billion Chabahar-Zahedan railway built by India's Ircon International for which India pledged additional US$400 million and Iran allocated US$125 million in December 2016, thus taking the total allocation to US$575 million (out of US$1.6 billion needed for the rail route) till the end of 2016. In October 2017, India's first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan was sent through the Chabahar Port.
The port of Chabahar is located on the Makran coast of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, next to the Gulf of Oman and at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz. It is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean. Being close to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan etc., it has been termed the "Golden Gate" to these land-locked countries.
Chabahar is 700 km (430 mi) away from Zahedan, the capital of the Sistan and Baluchistan province, 950 km (590 mi) away from Milak, the closest city to the Afghan border, and 1,827 km (1,135 mi) away from Sarakhs on the Turkmen border.
The marine distance to Dubai is 353 nautical miles (406 miles), Karachi in Pakistan is 456 nmi (525 mi) , and Mumbai in India is 843 nmi (970 mi) . Pakistan's Chinese-funded deep sea port at Gwadar is also on the Makran coast, at a distance of mere 72 km (45 mi). Gwadar also claims to provide access to Central Asia, and comparisons between the two ports are frequently made by analysts.
Because 90 percent of Iran's population is concentrated in the western part of the country, the eastern part is relatively less developed. Iran is intending to change that by the development around Chabahar port, with a free trade zone, and road and rail links between Chabahar and Central Asia. Its plan is to use Chabahar port as the gateway to Central Asia and maintain the Bandar Abbas port, which currently handles 85% of Iran's seaborne trade, as a hub for trade with Russia and Europe.
The highly congested Bandar Abbas port is not a deep water port and cannot handle the 250,000 ton ocean-going cargo ships. At present, such ships dock in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the cargo is transferred to smaller 100,000 ton ships for onward shipment to Iran. This makes Iran dependent on the UAE for shipments and represents a loss of revenue. Unlike Bandar Abbas, Chabahar has the ability to handle standard cargo ships.
A former port named Tis in Chabahar's neighborhood dates back to 2500 BC, known in Alexander the Great's conquests. Alberuni wrote that the sea coast of India commences with Tis. The Portuguese forces under Afonso de Albuquerque gained control of Chabahar and Tis, staying there until 1621. The British, and later the Portuguese in the 17th century entered this region.
Modern Chabahar dates back to around 1970, when it was declared a municipality and large port projects were started by order of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. Shah planned to construct a $600 million naval base at Chabahar, mostly employing American companies as contractors. The American naval officials held talks with their Iranian counterparts on securing an "option" to operate out of Chabahar in the event of an emergency. However, in 1977, Shah got strapped for cash, caught in a tug of war between the OPEC and the western oil companies over the price of oil, and the start of construction of Chabahar base was postponed. Soon afterwards, the Shah was overthrown in the Iranian revolution.
After the 1979 revolution the foreign companies left the projects and Iranian public companies linked to the Ministry of Jahad-e Sazandegi (or jihad for construction) took them over. The Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988) caused Chabahar to gain in logistical and strategic importance. War brought insecurity to the Strait of Hormuz and ships were unable to enter the Persian Gulf. Accordingly, Chabahar became a major port during the war.
The Chabahar port actually contains two separate ports called Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti. Between 1982 and 1983, Iran constructed four 45 meters (150 feet) berths at Shahid Kalantari and four 150 meters (492 feet) berths at Shahid Beheshti. Two larger berths, 235 meters (771 feet) and 265 meters (869 feet) meters long, were constructed in 1997 and 2004 respectively.
Consistent with its desire to be seen as a significant regional player, Iran has taken the initiative to engage with all the neighbouring countries to enhance the transit potential of Chabahar. It has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Afghanistan and Tajikistan on the construction of railway lines, water pipelines and energy transmission lines. It has been keen to extend the Khvaf-Herat rail line to connect to the railways of Central Asia, Turkey, and Europe. It has entered into an agreement with Oman, Qatar, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to establish a transport corridor between these countries. It is also a key partner in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) along with Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Oman, Syria, India and the Central Asian countries, which aims to connect South and Central Asian countries to Northern Europe via Iran and Russia. Specifically with respect to Chabahar, Iran has envisioned it as a key port in linking India with Afghanistan and Central Asian countries. Initiatives in this regard include a roadway from Chabahar to Milak on the Afghanistan border, Chabahar-Faraj-Bam railway, Chabahar-Zahedan-Mashhad rail link, which will be further extended to Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan and Termez in Uzbekistan. Iran also plans to build the Iranrud, Suez canal like canal through Iran to connect Caspian sea with Persian gulf.
In 2016, India signed a deal with Iran entailing $8 billion investment in Chabahar port and industries in Chabar Special Economic Zone, including an aluminium smelter and a urea making facility, at Chabahar port is being developed was a transit route to Afghanistan and central Asia. India has already built a 240-km road connecting Afghanistan with Iran. Also in planning is a rail route connecting Chabahar with the India-promoted $11-billion Hajigak iron and steel mining project in central Afghanistan, as seven Indian companies in 2011 acquired rights to mine central Afghanistan’s Hajigak region, which contain Asia’s largest deposit of iron ore. The Government of India has pledged to Afghanistan to spend $2bn in developing supporting infrastructure including Chabahar to Hajigaj railway. All this will bring cargo to Bandar Abbas port and Chabahar port, and free Kabul from its dependence on Pakistan to reach the outer world, giving India access to Afghanistan and beyond to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Europe via 7,200-km-long multi-modal North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
During the 1990s Iran and India, along with Russia, collaborated in backing the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Pakistan-backed Taliban. At this time, Iran invited India to develop the Chabahar port to obtain ready access to Afghanistan. In 1997, a trilateral agreement was signed with Turkmenistan to expand trade into Central Asia and, in 2000, another agreement with Russia to provide seamless transport between India and Europe via an International North-South Transport Corridor.
After the September 11 attacks and the American presence in Afghanistan, India, Iran and Afghanistan got together in January 2003, agreeing on a joint development of transportation links to Afghanistan. India agreed to expand the Chabahar port and to lay a railway track between Chabahar and Zaranj. Iran has completed 70 percent of the first phase of the Chabahar project at a cost of $340 million. India has spent $134 million during 2005–2009 to construct a road from Delaram in Afghanistan to Zaranj at the Iran-Afghanistan border. Iran has also built a roadway between Milak, close to Zaranj, and Chabahar passing through Zahedan and Iranshahr. Through Milak, Zaranj and Deleram, connectivity has been established to the Afghan `garland road', which connects the major Afghan cities Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif. In March 2012, ships from India docked at Chabahar carrying 100,000 tonnes of wheat under humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. The Afghan businesses have begun to shift from the Karachi port to Chabahar port for transit.
However, without further development of the Chabahar port, these road links would remain underutilized. Despite intentions, India's involvement in the infrastructure development within Iran has been minimal, possibly due to the western pressure to apply sanctions. Iran is also believed to have a shown a preference for Iranian contractors instead of Indians. The initiative was restarted in August 2012 in a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Summit.
In May 2016, India signed a series of twelve memorandums of understanding which centered upon the Port of Chabahar.
The trilateral transit agreement signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan allows Indian goods to reach Afghanistan through Iran. It links ports in the western coast of India to the Chabahar port and covers the road and rail links between Chabahar and the Afghan border.
The bilateral agreement between India and Iran gives India the right to develop two berths of the Chabahar port as agreed in 2015 and allows them to be operated for 10 years by India Ports Global, a joint venture between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Kandla Port Trust, in partnership with Iran's Aria Banader. India Ports Global has guaranteed handling of 30,000 TEUs by the third year of operations, and aims to eventually handle 250,000 TEUs.
The berths will be developed at a cost of $85 million over the course of 18 months. Under the agreement, India Ports Global will refurbish a 640 meters (2,100 feet) long container handling facility, and reconstruct a 600 meters (1,970 feet) long container handling facility at the port. India Ports Global will modernize ancillary infrastructure by installing four rail-mounted gantry cranes, sixteen rubber-tire gantry cranes, two reach stackers, two empty handlers, and six mobile harbor cranes. Upon completion of upgrade works agreed to in the May 2016 agreements, Chabahar's capacity will be increased to 8 million tons from the current 2.5 million ton capacity.
The investment is supplemented with a $150 million credit line to Iran through the Exim Bank of India. India has also offered to supply $400 million worth of steel towards the construction of a rail link between Chahbahar and Zahedan. Indian commitments to Iranian infrastructure could total $635 million as per the twelve memoranda of understanding signed in May 2016.
As per the deal, India will also be developing various industries, including aluminum and urea production plants, in the Chabahar economic zone attached to the port.
Iran's ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honerdoost stated that Pakistan and China had both been invited to contribute to the project before India, but neither China nor Pakistan had expressed interest in joining.
On 29 October 2017, the trilateral transit trade and rote was implemented when first shipment of wheat was sent from India to Afghanistan via Chabahar.
India is finalising a plan to construct a 900-km Chabahar-Zahedan-hajigak railway line that will connect Port of Chabahar in Iran, being built with Indian help, to the mineral-rich Hajigak region of Afghanistan. In 2011, seven Indian companies acquired rights to mine central Afghanistan’s Hajigak region, which contain Asia’s largest deposit of iron ore. The Government of India has pledged to spend $2bn in developing supporting infrastructure.
In May 2016, a memorandum of understanding was also signed for financing of the planned Chabahar–Zahedan railway section of Chabahar–Zahedan-hajigak railway, as part of North–South Transport Corridor, by Indian Railway's public sector unit Ircon International.
India has offered to supply approximately $400 million worth of steel towards the construction of this railway, while India has also offered to finance construction of the Chabahar to Zahedan rail line at a cost of $1.6 billion. India began shipping rail tracks worth US$150 million in July 2016 and in December 2016 Iran also allocated US$125 million for towards this rail route.
Chabahar's connection to the country's railway plan is under study and consideration. A rail link between Chabahar and Zahedan, when completed, can connect Chabahar to the Kerman–Zahedan railway and further to the Trans-Iranian Railway.
Mashhad in north east Iran to Herat in north west Afghanistan rail route has four sections, two each in Iran and Afghanistan. Within Iran, saction-1 from Khaf to Sangan 14 km route was completed in September 2016 and saction-2 from Sangan to Iran-Afghanistan border at Shamtiq (Shematigh, Shmtygh, شمتیغ) 62 km was completed in October 2017. Within Afghanistan, saction-3 from Iran-Afghanistan border at Shamtiq–Jono (Jonaw, Junaw) to Ghurian 61.2 km route was completed in October 2017 and section-4 is Jono to Herat Italy-supported 63 km route. Herat is already linked with Turkmenistan via rail and road routes. India and Afghanistan plan to extend rail route from Herat to Mazar-i-Sharif. Mazar-i-Sharif is already linked with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan via rail as well as via road routes with other central Asian nations.
India's minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari also stated that Indian companies could potentially invest over ₹1 lakh crore (US$15 billion) in the Chabahar Special Economic zone. He however stated that potential investments would depend on whether Iran would be willing to supply Indian projects with natural gas at tariffs substantially lower than those offered by Iran.
In March 2017, India has invited expression of interest from private parties to manage the port for 10 years, Adani Group and Ruia family's Essar Group are interested, and India announced that port equipment such as crane etc. will be procured soon. In March 2017, India is already running training in Nagpur for the Afghan customs officials to be posted at Iran-Afghan border customs post built by India on the road built by India and Afghan ambassador to India announced that Indian shipments to Afghanistan via Chabahar will commence soon.
On 29 October 2017, the port and road transit to Afghanistan was operationalized when first shipment of wheat was sent to Afghanistan.
In August 2017, Indian Union Minister of Ports, Nitin Gadkari, informed at an event in Iran that the civil work at Chabahar port developed by India is complete, and the Indian government is ordering INR 400 crores (USD63 million) worth of mechanised equipment and cranes, and the port will be operational in 2018 to export Indian wheat to Afghanistan. after meeting with Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, he said "now, we are building a railway line in Iran. From Chabhar, we can go to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Russia."
In August 2017, India Global Ports Limited (IGPL) had applied for the permission to run the Chabahar port in the interim, while Iran has already completed the construction of jetty and IGPL will build two new terminals, one for the containers and another for the multi-purpose ships. In October 2017, IGPL had already started constructing the terminals after placing order for the construction equipment.
On 29 October 2017, the first shipment through the port was sent from India en route to Afghanistan. To demonstrate the viability of the route, seven shipments of wheat as aid to Afghanistan were planned to be sent by India by the end of January 2018.
On 3 December 2017, the first phase of the port construction was inaugurated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran and India signed an agreement worth $2 billion for cooperation in the rail sector. A part of the agreement pertains to a memorandum of understanding worth $600 million for Iran to purchase locomotives and freight cars from India.
American policy analyst Rorry Daniels has characterized both the Indian investment in Chabahar and the Chinese investment in Gwadar as generating perceptions of "strategic encirclement". According to her, China fears encirclement by the US, India by China, and Pakistan by India. All of these encirclements are seen by the respective countries as "containment strategies", which they attempt to break out of. Indian news commenter Shishir Gupta described India's Chabahar Port deal as "a counter to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor," as it has "broken through the strategic encirclement by China and Pakistan."
Scholar Neil Padukone however disagrees that India has a goal of encircling Pakistan. India needs access to iron from Afghanistan's Hajigak mine and other natural resources from the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, which is made possible by the Chabahar port. But, in the long run, the pipeline-to-road-to-rail-to-sea-to-road shipment costs through Chabahar should be circumvented by direct transit through Pakistan. So far, Pakistan has been reluctant to provide such access. The US State Department does not currently see military cooperation between Iran and India as part of the Chabahar project, although it has cautioned India to remain within the legal parameters with respect to collaboration with Iran. The US also sees the Indian presence in greater Central Asia beneficial for spreading the soft power of democratic and friendly regimes. India hopes to see the Western countries use the Chabahar route to link to Afghanistan and reduce their dependence on Pakistan. Comments in the Chinese Press have indicated that China is unlikely to see India's efforts as strategic competition and that India's contribution to the infrastructure development in Central Asia will also benefit Chinese multinational corporations.
Padukone agrees that India has need for establishing a "naval counterweight" to China's presence in Gwadar, as India sees the Gwadar Port as a manifestation of a strong China–Pakistan alliance that seeks to choke Indian investments in the Indian Ocean region. Scholar Christophe Jaffrelot states that Gwadar gives the Chinese a key listening post to monitor US and Indian naval activity in the Persian Gulf as well as a dual-use civil-military base for Chinese ships and submarines. India perceive a direct threat and its response has been to help build the Chabahar port.
Iran has stated that Chabahar is not a rival to Pakistan's Gwadar and invited Pakistan to join in its development. Pakistani analysts have endorsed the view, stating that Gwadar has an advantage by being a deep sea port and the expansion of Chabahar would in fact expand trade through Gwadar. Larger vessels that cannot dock at Chabahar could dock at Gwadar and the cargo transshipped to Chabahar. Pakistan's foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz has signalled that Pakistan may link the Gwadar port to Chabahar.
However, Pakistani military commentators have characterised the alliance between India, Iran, and Afghanistan as a "security threat to Pakistan", and it had "ominous and far-reaching implications" to the region. Segments of the Pakistani press bemoaned the country's increasing "isolationism".
In light of trade restrictions imposed on Iran by USA, India had reduced oil imports from Iran, but USA has not intervened directly in the port's development because "conservative analysts in (Washington) DC have accepted the fact that India will maintain some form of relationship with Iran, Iran is more about a transport corridor to Afghanistan; that it has no interest in advancing Iran's agenda in the Middle East; and that whatever space India evacuates there will be filled by China", South Asia expert at "The Heritage Foundation" in Washington Jeff Smith said in November 2017.
Chronic instability in Afghanistan may limit usefulness of Chabahar as a conduit to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Road networks between Chabahar and Afghanistan rely upon connections to the Afghan Ring Road. In August 2016, insurgent activity by Afghanistan's Taliban militant group forced closure of the Ring Road between Kandahar and Helmand Province. 
Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan Province, site of Chabahar port, is also the stage for insurgent activity by the insurgent group Jundallah, which claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims, and the local ethnic Baloch. In 2010, Jundallah militants dispatched a suicide bomber to a Shi'ite mosque in Chabahar, killing 38 people.
India announced its participation in the Chabahar port project.
According to the provisional deal, IPGPL will refurbish a 640-meter (2,100-foot) container handling facility through deployment of new equipment, including four rail-mounted gantry cranes, 16 rubber-tire gantry cranes, two reach stackers and two empty handlers. For the rebuilding of a 600-meter (1,969-foot) multi-purpose berth at Chabahar, Indian authorities will invest in six mobile harbor cranes, 10 forklifts and 10 trailers.
Under the agreement, IPGPL will invest about $85 million in the modernization of infrastructure at two existing cargo berths at Chabahar on a 10-year operating concession with a provision to renew the contract with mutual consent. IPGPL has guaranteed 30,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units in the port's third year of operation and aims to handle 250,000 TEUs in the 10th year.
IPGPL will refurbish a 640-meter (2,100 feet) container-handling facility through the deployment of new equipment, including four rail-mounted gantry cranes, 16 rubber-tire gantry cranes, two reach stackers and two empty handlers. In addition, it will upgrade a 600-meter multipurpose berth with six mobile harbor cranes, 10 forklifts and 10 trailers for breakbulk and other cargoes.
'Honardost went on to say that Pakistan and China were offered to join the Chahbahar port development deal before India. However, both Pakistan and China did not show any interest, he added."
The offer to cooperate had first been extended to Pakistan and then China, implying neither had expressed interest, he said while speaking on Pakistan-Iran relations at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISSI)
memorandums of understanding on provision of services by Indian Railways, including financing to the tune of $1.6 billion, for the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line
Confirmation Statement between EXIM Bank and Central Bank of Iran This confirms the availability of credit up to INR 3000 crore for the import of steel rails and implementation of Chabahar port.
MoU between IRCON and Construction, Development of Transport and Infrastructure Company (CDTIC) of Iran MoU will enable IRCON to provide requisite services for the construction of Chabahar-Zahedan railway line which forms part of transit and transportation corridor in trilateral agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan. Services to be provided by IRCON include all superstructure work and financing the project (around USD 1.6 billion).
"India is ready to invest Rs 2 lakh crore at Chabahar SEZ in Iran but the investments would depend on gas prices as India wants it to be lowered," Gadkari said... On talks on supply of natural gas, Gadkari said that Iran has offered gas to India at $2.95 per million British thermal unit to set up urea plant at the Chabahar port but India is negotiating the gas price, demanding lowering the same... India, which imports around 8-9 million tonnes of the nitrogenous fertiliser, is negotiating for a price of $1.5 per mmBtu with the Persian Gulf nation in a move which if successful will see a significant decline in the country's Rs 80,000 crore subsidy for the soil nutrient.
But additionally, India's bet on Afghanistan or Chabahar may turn out to be a poor choice. Afghanistan remains politically unstable. Any government that comes to power after the 2014 elections, if led by the Taliban or another Pakistani-supported political faction, may not be as enamored of increased trade with Iran or India as the current government is. And Chabahar is located in one of Iran's most explosive regions, where the Sunni Baloch insurgents have carried out repeated attacks against the regime in recent years.
From Chabahar port, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan. This road can then connect to the 218-km Zaranj-Delaram road -- constructed by India in 2009 at a cost of Rs 680 crore – and finally to Afghanistan's Garland highway.
The closure of Helmand-Kandahar Highway for the past four days - due to the presence of Taliban in parts of Helmand province – has created numerous challenges for battle-weary residents.
Jundallah, an ethnic Baloch nationalist rebel group, has been waging a campaign of violence and terrorism in the name of local Baloch minority rights against Tehran in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan since 2003.
In the most recent high-profile strike in Iranian Balochistan, two suicide bombers struck the Imam Hussein mosque in the port city of Chabahar on December 15, 2010, killing 38 and injuring over 100.