India has begun using a new trade route to Afghanistan.
India sent its first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan by way of the Iranian port of Chabahar. The shipment will not pass through Pakistan, which lies directly between the two countries.
The Pakistani government refuses to let India transport goods to Afghanistan through Pakistani territory.
The new sea route is an important step in expanding trade between India and Afghanistan. Indian officials described the first shipment as a “landmark moment.”
India plans to send six more shipments, representing 1.1 million tons of wheat, in the coming months. They will be sent from the port of Kandla, in western India, to Chabahar. From there, they will be taken by road to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The shipment comes days after a top United States official, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, visited New Delhi. He spoke about President Donald Trump’s decision to decertify the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Tillerson attempted to ease concerns that U.S. officials could stop India’s plans to develop the Iranian port.
Easier connectivity to Afghanistan is necessary for India to increase its economic links with Afghanistan and countries in Central Asia.
The port of Chabahar is the centerpiece of an effort to improve trade in the area. India is investing $500 million to develop ports and new transport centers, as well as connecting road and railroad lines.
Indian leaders expressed hope about the project.
Sushma Swaraj is India’s foreign minister. She called the new trade link the starting point of an effort that would lead to the unrestricted flow of trade throughout South Asia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote on Twitter that the launch of the trade route “marks a new chapter in regional cooperation and connectivity.”
The sea route through the Iranian port is the second step taken by India to increase connectivity with Afghanistan. In June, India opened an air freight route to provide more Afghan goods for the Indian market.
The Chabahar project was proposed almost 15 years ago. But plans were delayed for years because of U.S.-led actions to punish Iran for its nuclear activities. The easing of those sanctions led India to sign an agreement with Iran and Afghanistan last year to develop the port.
The shortest and most cost-effective land routes between India and Afghanistan lie through Pakistan. But a long rivalry between the two countries has prevented India from sending exports through Pakistani territory. Afghanistan is only permitted to send a limited amount of goods to India through Pakistan.