Afghanistan will not be able to join the meeting proposed by India, Iran, and Uzbekistan on the use of Iran’s Chabahar port in absence of any recognised or elected government there, sources said on Monday.
The new grouping’s meeting was due this month but has been delayed due to the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and is now scheduled to take place later this year.
These three nations had, in July, invited Afghanistan to form a Quad to discuss the India-sponsored International North South Transit Corridor (INSTC) project and the joint use of Chabahar port and the then Ashraf Ghani government agreed to join the meeting.
“In July, India had invited Afghanistan to join the group. But due to the changed political situation in the country, Afghanistan will not be participating in the three nations talks on INSTC and the Chabahar port,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
The INSTC is a 7,200 km-long multimodal transportation network encompassing sea, road, and rail routes, linking the Indian Ocean to the Caspian Sea via the Persian Gulf, onwards into Russia and northern Europe and offers the shortest connectivity route between them.
This port is the only gateway for India to Afghanistan and Central Asia after Pakistan blocking its transit trade route via Afghanistan, whereas the INSTC and the Chabahar port together give an alternate to China’s “Belt and Road initiative”.
India, Iran, and Uzbekistan had held their first ever meeting on joint use of Chabahar Port but later Uzbekistan also agreed to join US-led Quad grouping which also included Afghanistan and Pakistan, and would be focusing on enhancing regional connectivity.
Experts observed that US-led Quad, including Pakistan and Uzbekistan, has been created to counter India’s ambitious Chabahar project.
“India has proposed to include the port in the framework of the International North-South Transport Corridor and has welcomed the formation of the India-Uzbekistan-Iran-Afghanistan quadrilateral working group on the joint use of Chabahar port. The meeting is likely to take place in the later half of this year,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said recently.
The Afghan government had been a major stakeholder in the talks since the multi-nation trade route had been developed by India along with Iran to provide a trade route for Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Its absence is set to effectively stop plans of goods from Chabahar port reaching land-locked Afghanistan, which was earlier set to come up as an important node of the INSTC, experts noted.