Afghanistan got the potential and opportunity to serve as a gateway to South and Central Asia and discover new markets for Afghan-made products. At a time when Afghan traders are troubled by transit trade-related barriers in Pakistan, alternatives to Pakistani ports should be explored. Though, Afghan-Pak ties went under overhaul in the past few months, but most of the daunting problems remain as it is. As a gateway to energy-rich Central Asia, importance of Afghanistan cannot be taken lightly. The country serves as the only bridge between Central and South Asia. Without participation of Afghanistan, mega regional projects such as CASA-1000 and Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline are worthless and could not be implemented. Location gives edge to the country in geo-strategic and geo-economic policies of the regional countries. But this importance has not been cashed so far. Afghan officials should cash it, because very little advantage has been taken from this strategically important position in the over past decade. After ouster of the Taliban from power, several new doors opened for Afghanistan to bring in use its position and available opportunities for economic growth. Unfortunately, efforts of the Afghan authorities are time-consuming and still to bear fruit.
At this critical juncture, Indian investment in Iran’s Chabahar port to access Afghan markets and Central Asia is a blessing in disguise. New Dehli has announced US$200 investment to develop the port’s capacity. The port would not only help India but Afghanistan as well, because it is a good alternative to Pakistan’s Gwadar and Karachi ports. As agriculture is considered backbone of the Afghan economy, India could been as a biggest and attractive market for Afghan products such as vegetables, carpets, fresh and dry fruits as well as precious and semi-precious gemstones. As the Afghan-Pak Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) has not been helpful for Afghan traders to load Indian products at the Wagah point, therefore, the Iranian port would fill this void. Through the port Afghan traders could find several markets in South Asia for their products. Since Afghan traders are facing different challenges in Pakistan and despite the APTTA, thus upgradation of the Iranian port would gradually drop the percentage of import and export made through Pakistani routes.
From economic perspective, Chabahar port could play vital role in strengthening of Afghan economy because trade activities would increase several folds between Afghanistan, India, Iran and other countries. In addition to that it would also pave way for regional integration as the countries with shared economic interests would join hands for further cooperation. The time is ripe to turn over a new leaf and make Afghanistan an active player in region while putting weight behind this initiative of India.