Takeaways from the First meeting of the India-Central Asia JWG on Chabahar Port
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Associate Fellow, VIF

The India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Chabahar Port had its first meeting in Mumbai on April 12–13, 2023. The Deputy Ministers and Senior Officials of the Republics of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attended the meeting. Mr. Dammu Ravi, Secretary (ER), Ministry of External Affairs, India presided over this meeting. The Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the national representative of the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) were the special invitees for this meeting. This JWG was proposed during the First India-Central Asia Summit in January 2022.

Central Asia is in India’s extended neighbourhood, and the two regions have strong historical and cultural ties. However, connectivity has been a major obstacle to India’s outreach to the region since its partition in 1947 and the establishment of Pakistan. In order to address the connectivity issues, New Delhi invested in Chabahar Port in Iran. Chabahar is an important port in southern Iran, close to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. India considers this Port as a critical component of its ambitions to construct a commercial and transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia that avoids Pakistan. This is especially crucial for India since Pakistan has historically been hostile to India and has refused to allow Indian products to travel through its borders. The building of the Chabahar Port is also viewed as a means for India to counteract China’s rising influence in the region.

China has made significant investments in Pakistan, notably the building of the Gwadar Port, which is only 80 kilometres from Chabahar. Along with India, Iran, and Afghanistan are significant players in the development of this Port. Iran views the port as an opportunity to mitigate the impact of international sanctions by utilizing it as a main transit point for trade between South and Central Asia and East and West Asia. Tehran also looks at Chabahar to enhance trade with India and other nations, while Afghanistan sees it as a way to lessen its commercial dependency on Pakistan. Overall, the development of Chabahar Port is viewed as a critical geopolitical step by India to enhance its influence in the region.

In May 2016, India reached an agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to develop the Shahid Beheshti Terminal in Chabahar. India has committed to investing USD 85 million in the facility and has already given cranes and other equipment worth several million dollars. According to the present arrangements, India continues to operate and equip the container and multi-purpose terminals at Chabahar Port. India has delivered six mobile harbour cranes to the port’s Indian Ports Global Chabahar Free Trade Zone (IPGCFTZ).[1] The Indian government has also set aside a considerable fund of Rs100 crores for the port’s development in the forthcoming fiscal year 2023-2024.[2] The IPGL took over the operations of the Chabahar Port in December 2018. Since then, it has handled 16,000 TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) and 4 million tons of bulk and general cargo and 215 vessels.[3]

Implications for India-Central Asia Connectivity

As previously mentioned, improving connectivity to Central Asia is one of the primary objectives of India’s Connect Central Asia policy, which gained traction, especially with Prime Minister Modi’s visit to five Central Asian nations in 2015. Furthermore, India’s admission as a permanent member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017 has opened up new options for boosting cooperation on connectivity issues. With the continuing Russia-Ukraine conflict and Western economic sanctions against Moscow, there has been a drive from the Russian side to revitalise the southward connectivity, which was not previously the case. Several encouraging developments have taken place in the progress of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). With the formation of a new India-Central Asia Joint Working Group on Chabahar port, it appears that sincere attempts are being made to address the connectivity issues between India and Central Asia.

However, since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last year, many viewed the scope of India’s participation in this agreement as limited. Nonetheless, the port has proven to be highly valuable since New Delhi used it to deliver a considerable amount of humanitarian commodities to the Afghan people. Central Asian nations are likewise attempting to diversify their trade networks as a result of the fast-changing regional and international environment. Uzbekistan is a double-landlocked country with an active interest in utilising the Chabahar port. At the same time, Tashkent promotes the Trans Afghan Railway, connecting the existing operating Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif rail route to Kabul and Peshawar. This project faces multiple barriers in terms of funding, security, and profitability in order to become a reality. Chabahar Port appears to be more favourable for Central Asian countries since security concerns are lower and infrastructure to use this port as a transit option is available.

The Outcome of First India-Central Asia JWG on Chabahar Port

The first meeting of JWG on Chabaharport was extremely important since it included representatives from many relevant nations, including Iran, Afghanistan, and five Central Asian republics. Sunil Mukundan, the MD of IPGL, updated the other attending authorities about IPGL’s facilities and activities at the Shahid Behesti terminal. The national representative of UNWFP also briefed about the ongoing cooperation between New Delhi and UNWFP for providing food grains to Afghan People.[4] During the discussions, the critical role of the Shahid Behesti Terminal at the Chabahar Port in facilitating the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the people of Afghanistan was highlighted. India has used the port to send 2.5 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of pulses to Afghanistan since IPGL took over operations in December 2018. [5]

As increased trade and economic activity necessitate regional connectivity, therefore; the necessity to push it further was emphasised. Against this backdrop, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister offered to hold the next session of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) in Iran with the encouragement of private sector participation.[6] This proposal was well received by the participants. More and more private sector engagement is required to promote and popularise the use of this port. The private sector has been cautious about using the Chabahar Port due to various kinds of disinformation and challenges with customs and banking. The JWG’s emphasis on these concerns will promote increased private-sector involvement in Chabahar. The Indian government should also give incentives to the private sector and act expeditiously to eliminate the problems that it encounters. The representatives of other countries also stated that the development of connectivity should be prioritized as it can significantly increase trade and commercial relations. For this, they all pledged to promote private investment on a significant scale, to apply international standards, and to secure reciprocal access to markets.[7]

There has been an emphasis on measures to improve regional connectivity. Still, all the stakeholders agreed that these initiatives must adhere to international standards, the rule of law, and international obligations and be founded on mutual consent for long-term growth. They also agreed that, to establish sustainable transport linkages, there is an urgent need for openness, wide engagement, localized goals, financial stability, and the protection of everyone’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This was expressed in the context of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Because China’s current CPEC project runs through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in Jammu and Kashmir. India has previously indicated concern with this, so it has declined to participate in this initiative despite China’s request.[8] In contrast, New Delhi’s connectivity initiatives are devoid of political ambitions and completely designed to boost regional connectivity.


Relations between India and Central Asia have grown considerably in recent years. From a period when New Delhi lacked a forum for engagement with the region, there is now a system for bilateral and multilateral exchanges at all levels. The inaugural India-Central Asia Summit, held in January 2022, was a huge success in expanding India’s involvement with Central Asia. The creation of a JWG on Afghanistan, an NSA-level meeting between India and Central Asia, and the recently conducted first meeting of the India-Central Asia JWG on Chabahar port are three important successes of the first India-Central Asia summit.

These three measures align with the primary objectives of India’s redesigned Central Asia strategy, aimed to strengthen cooperation on regional security, Afghanistan, and connectivity. Chabahar can alleviate the connectivity gap between India and Central Asia. It can also help solve the Afghan situation by giving humanitarian aid and access to seaports. However, greater engagement from the Central Asian side is required. They should come forward and encourage businesses in their respective nations to use the Chabahar port’s transit facilities. As a result of improved connectivity, trade between India and the Central Asian republics will also increase.


[1] ‘Six Mobile Harbour Cranes handed over to IPGCFTZ by Sarbananda Sonowal to improve efficiency in the operations’, PIB Releases, Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, GOI, August 20, 2022. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1853334

[2]Dipanjan Roy Chaudhary, ‘Setting sail for stronger ties: Chabahar Port testament to India-Iran partnership’, The Economic Times, March 7, 2023. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/setting-sail-for-stronger-ties-chabahar-port-testament-to-india-iran-partnership/articleshow/98463977.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

[3]Rajya Sabha Question No.1340, Construction of Chabahar Port, July 28, 2022.https://www.mea.gov.in/rajya-sabha.htm?dtl/35552/question+no1340+construction+of+chabahar+port

[4]1st meeting of India-Central Asia JWG on Chabahar focuses on wheat assistance to Afghanistan, ANI News, April 14, 2023. https://www.aninews.in/news/world/asia/1st-meeting-of-india-central-asia-jwg-on-chabahar-focuses-on-wheat-assistance-to-afghanistan20230414202445/

[5]First meeting on the development of Chabahar Port held in India. https://www.logisticsinsider.in/first-meeting-on-the-development-of-chabahar-port-held-in-india/

[6]Joint Statement of the First Meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Chabahar, Joint Statement, MEA, April 14, 2023.

[7]Siddhant Mishra,‘Port' of Call: Jt Statement of First Meeting of India-Central Asia Joint Working Group on Chabahar’, CNN-News18, April 14, 2023, https://www.news18.com/india/port-of-call-joint-statement-of-first-meeting-of-india-central-asia-joint-working-group-on-chabahar-7551625.html

[8]India refuses to support China’s Belt and Road project at SCO meet, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 30, 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-doesn-t-join-sco-members-in-endorsing-china-s-belt-and-road-project/story-CBH22ODWVImRFpwkkhehWI.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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