Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday inaugurated the first phase of the Chabahar Port, providing India a critical route to landlocked Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

Rouhani declared that the port, known as Shahid Behesti, once connected with the railway network, would play a big role not only in Iran’s development but also link Afghanistan and Central Asian countries with the high seas.

The ceremony at Chabahar was attended by Minister of State for Shipping P Radhakrishnan and representatives from over 15 other countries. The inauguration came a day after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a surprise stopover in Tehran while returning from the Russian city of Sochi after attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. She held extensive talks with her Iranian counterpart Javed Zarif on bilateral issues, particularly the Chabahar Port project in which India is a key player.

Iran is believed to have asked India to “manage” or operate the first phase of the port, until work for the second phase is finalised. The port is likely to boost trade between India, Afghanistan and Iran in the backdrop of Pakistan’s continued refusal to allow India access to Afghanistan through its territory.

Over a month ago, India had sent its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan by sea through the Chabahar Port. The Indian minister also represented the country at the India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral meeting on the development of Chabahar Port. Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi and Afghanistan Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw led their delegations at the meeting.

The three countries reviewed the progress on the development of the port and reiterated their commitment to operationalise it at the earliest.

They also reiterated the decision to organise a connectivity event involving all stakeholders at Chabahar to increase awareness about the new opportunities offered by the port.