Iran to complete major railway project along Afghan border without India: Report

Tasnim – Four years after India and Iran signed an agreement to construct a rail line from Chabahar port to Zahedan, along the border with Afghanistan, the Iranian government has decided to proceed with the construction on its own, citing delays from the Indian side in funding the project.

Last week, Iranian Transport and Urban Development Minister Mohammad Eslami inaugurated the track-laying process for the 628 km Chabahar-Zahedan line, which will be extended to Zaranj across the border in Afghanistan.

Officials told The Hindu that the entire project would be completed by March 2022 and that Iranian Railways will proceed without India’s assistance, using approximately $400 million from the Iranian National Development Fund.

The railway project, which was being discussed between the Iranian Railways and the state-owned Indian Railways Construction Ltd (IRCON), was meant to be part of India’s commitment to the trilateral agreement between India, Iran, and Afghanistan to build an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

In May 2016, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran to sign the Chabahar agreement with Iranian President Rouhani and Afghanistan President Ghani, IRCON had signed an MoU with the Iranian Railways.

The MoU was to construct the Chabahar-Zahedan railway as “part of transit and transportation corridor in a trilateral agreement between India, Iran, and Afghanistan”. IRCON had promised to provide all services, superstructure work, and financing for the project (around $1.6 billion).

However, despite several site visits by IRCON engineers, and preparations by Iranian railways, India never began the work, ostensibly due to worries that these could attract US sanctions.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs and IRCON declined to comment on the issue.

However, when asked if the MoU with IRCON had been canceled, now that the project has been started without it, an official said India could still join at a “later date.”