Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday inaugurated the first phase of the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman, opening a new strategic route connecting Iran, India and Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.
The port in the Sistan-Balochistan province on Iran's southern coast, is easily accessible from India's western coast and is located around 80 km from Pakistan's Gwadar port, which is being developed with Chinese investment.
India's minister of state for shipping Pon Radhakrishnan represented India at the inauguration ceremony of Phase 1 of the Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar, which was also attended by ambassadors and senior officials of the region.
At an India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the inaugural function on Sunday the three countries resolved to work towards integrated development of connectivity infrastructure, including ports, road and rail networks to open up greater opportunities for regional market access and integration of their economies.
India has contracted to equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port Phase-I with capital investment of $85.21 million and annual revenue expenditure of $22.95 million on a 10-year lease.
The port will give Iran the closest link to the Indian Ocean and more than triple the country's shipping capacity and pose a challenge to Pakistan's Gwadar Port, which is some 80 km away.
The $340-million project was constructed by Khatam al-Anbia, a company affiliated to the Revolutionary Guard and the largest contractor of government construction projects.
It brings the capacity of the port to 8.5 million tonnes of cargo annually, from the previous 2.5 million tonnes.
The port facilities now include five new piers, two of them allowing docking of container vessels with up to 100,000 tonnes captaincy.
Rouhani, in his inauguration speech and said the port will bring ''more engagement and unity'' among regional countries. ''We should go after positive competition,'' he said. ''We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome Gwadar's development.''
Iranian state TV said the inauguration was attended by dignitaries from India, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.
For India, which has committed $500 million for the development of the Chabahar port along with associated roads and rail lines, the investment is important since the port will open a trade route for land-locked Central Asian countries bypassing Pakistan.
Last month India shipped the first consignment of a planned 1300,000 tonne wheat supply to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port.
Chabahar also has an international airport and Iran's Navy and Air Force have bases in the city, adding to the port's value.