The Chabahar port in Iran has come as a huge facilitator in providing food supplies to Afghanistan during the ongoing pandemic. Sources say that India is looking to supply around 75,000 tonnes of wheat to the landlocked neighbour through this port. Five thousand tonnes were sent last week, another 11,000 tonnes are expected to be sent this week. India is also looking at sending consignments of tea and sugar, too, through this route.
The port, in which India has a large role in developing one terminal, is of strategic importance to the country. It helps India reach not just Afghanistan, but also gives it access to all Central Asian nations. It has been envisaged as part of the ambitious multi-mode International North South Transport Corridor, linking Russia, Armenia, Iran, India, several central Asian countries and Europe. India’s land access to Central Asia gets thwarted because of unfriendly relations with Pakistan. In fact, in the past, there have been occasions when supplies of fruit from Afghanistan to India’s markets have rotted at the Pakistan border for lack of clearance. India also runs air cargo connections to Afghanistan that was inaugurated a couple of years ago to bypass the road connectivity issues.
Although Donald Trump’s government in the United States has imposed sanctions on Iran after he walked out of the Iran Civil Nuclear Deal in 2018, Chabahar port development remains outside the ambit of its sanctions. The port is of use to the US, too, as an alternate access to Afghanistan, where it is heavily invested.
India, under pressure from the US, had stopped all imports of crude oil from Iran last year. However, it continues to maintain friendly relations with Iran. Tehran, too, has received supplies of medicines and drugs following the pandemic. India, the world leader in generic drugs, has sent consignments of necessary medicines—hydroxychloroquine, paracetamol, and antibiotics like erythromycin—and vitamins to countries across the globe to combat COVID-19. To those who can afford it, these drugs have been sent through the commercial route; to others, India has gifted it.
Earlier this year, India managed emergency evacuations of its nationals from Tehran. Most of the 1,142 nationals were pilgrims. Another 250, who tested positive, remained behind. Future evacuations may bring these people back home, too. India also has a large student population in Iran.