In 2016, Tehran and New Delhi signed a deal to build a 628-km rail line from strategic Chabahar port to Zahedan, very close to the Afghan border, with a crucial extension to Zaranj, in Afghanistan, and beyond.
The negotiations involved Iranian Railways and Indian Railway Constructions Ltd. But in the end nothing happened – because of Indian foot-dragging. So Tehran has decided to build the railway anyway, with its own funds – $400 million – and completion scheduled for March 2022.
The railway was supposed to be the key transportation corridor linked to substantial Indian investments in Chabahar, its port of entry from the Gulf of Oman for an alternative New Silk Road to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Upgrading rail/road infrastructure from Afghanistan to its neighbors Tajikistan and Uzbekistan would be the next step. The whole operation was inscribed in a trilateral India-Iran-Afghanistan deal – signed in 2016 in Tehran by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The unofficial New Delhi excuse revolves around fears that the project would be slammed with US sanctions. New Delhi actually did get a Trump administration sanctions waiver for Chabahar and the rail line to Zahedan. The problem was to convince an array of investment partners, all of them terrified of being sanctioned. [continued…]