In a major initiative to boost regional connectivity, Afghanistan on Sunday formally launched exports to India through the Chabahar Port in Iran.

The first shipment of 570 tonnes of goods in 23 trucks was inaugurated by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at a ceremony in the Western Nimroz province of land-locked country. Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan Vinay Kumar was among those present at the ceremony.

Addressing the gathering, Ghani said that with the opening of the Chabahar route, Afghanistan’s exports would increase to $2 billion from the current $1 billion over the next one year.

“Today, Nimroz is turning from a deprived province into a key province,” Ghani said as he spoke about the importance of the Chabahar Port for Nimroz.

Ghani directed relevant institutions to start work on improving Nimroz from a third-grade province to a second-grade province. “Afghanistan is no longer a landlocked country; it is the heart of Asia,” he said, adding that his country was turning from an importer to an exporting country.

The Indian envoy said Afghanistan’s exports to India have increased by 40 per cent after the launch of air corridor between Kabul and New Delhi in 2017. He also highlighted the importance of the Chabahar Port for regional integration and strengthening of the Afghan economy.

Chabahar Port is a key trade port, providing Afghanistan with direct sea access. It is being developed by India as it provides New Delhi a critical transport link to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

Last year in February, Iran said it had agreed to lease operational control of Chabahar to India for 18 months and in June, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said India was trying to make the port fully operational by 2019.