Much Chabahar About Nothing
The Indian media and foreign policy punditry has "caught the horn by the bull" when it comes to their understanding and pronouncements on India's involvement in Chabahar port in Iran
What it isn’t
India did not develop the “Chabahar port”. India does not operate the port. India has no ownership over the port. India’s involvement in Chabahar is no more “strategic” than UAE’s DP World investing and operating port facilities in India. India’s involvement in developing and managing terminal facilities in two berths in one of the two ports in Chabahar is not the same as China developing Gwador port as part of CPEC.
It most definitely is not India’s answer to China’s Gwador project as Indian media claims. Not even remotely close to that!
What it is
Iran, Afghanistan, and India signed a tripartite Transit Trade Agreement to develop two of the five berths in one of the two ports in Chabahar, related terminal facilities, and rail connectivity to Afghanistan to provide a trade route for India and Afghanistan and logistics services to any other users. As an outcome of this agreement; India set up a Special Purpose Vehicle, gave contracts to develop the berths, formed a JV company called India Ports Global (one of the parties to the JV is an Iranian ports operator).
The tripartite agreement is valid for 10 years and 9 years are left. Any commercial enterprise, including Pakistani or Chinese, can use this facility, IPG cannot deny services to any shipper. Neither India nor any other country or company can import or export military cargo via these terminals to Afghanistan or any other country. The Chabahar ports (Shahid Beheshti and Shahid Kalantari) and the vessel traffic in Chabahar are managed by the port authority of Iran.
What’s the future
The railway project connecting Chabahar to Zahedan was to be jointly developed by Iranian Railways and India, but, since India has failed to fund the project, owing to the threat of sanctions by the USA, Iran has dropped India and developing the railway project on its own. Iran is unlikely to renew the tripartite agreement for the port facility when it expires after nine years.
If India wants to have a foothold in Chabahar ports and participate in any transportation corridor projects, then it will need to join China's BRI.
There's no working around that because Chabahar ports' facilities will be made available to BRI by Iran. Both China and Pakistan already have access to Chabahar ports and the transport corridor to Afghanistan. But they both don't need it!