Al-Monitor |Iran was hit by yet another terrorist attack on Dec. 6. This time, a rare target: the strategic port city of Chabahar, where a suicide attack on a police station killed four and wounded 42. Located in the southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province, the 1,200-acre port with 10 active berths lies on the coast of the Gulf of Oman. It is Iran’s sole oceanic port, bridging the country to the Indian Ocean via the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.
But Chabahar also holds significant value for Afghanistan and India. This shared regional importance brought together the three countries’ presidents in Tehran in May 2016 to ink a deal in which New Delhi pledged $500 million in investments to develop the port. The project was meant to facilitate India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asian markets, bypassing neighboring foe Pakistan, which is not on good terms with the Afghan government.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is pursuing an agenda of expanding ties with India’s leading regional competitor, China. To do so, Islamabad has attracted Beijing’s investment to its Gwadar Port, which lies within 76 nautical miles of Chabahar.
Following the agreement in Tehran, the Indian investments started flowing. During a February 2017 visit by Iran’s Hassan Rouhani to New Delhi, the Indian government also agreed to manage certain parts of Chabahar Port for 18 months. In June 2017, Indians expressed hope about operating the port by 2019. That, however, coincided with growing concerns over implications of the US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, including the reimposition of sanctions. This fueled fears about a complete Indian abandonment of the strategic port.