Iran’s Chabahar Port is all set to emerge as a major, if not the only, terminal for Central Asia’s trade and transit with the outside world – more specifically with India. The port is going to equally benefit the landlocked Afghanistan, which, after the induction of the Taliban government in Kabul, has expressed renewed interest in the promotion of the Iranian port and its use for trade and transit with India. In October last year, Iranian media reported that ‘Tehran had agreed to Taliban’s proposal of using Chabahar Port for promotion of Afghanistan’s trade and cargo freight, particularly the supply of fresh and dry fruits, to India.’ The vigorous interest of the landlocked Central Asian countries in the use of Chabahar Port for trade and connectivity comes in the wake of the fast-changing geopolitics after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, in which Russia, China and India have emerged as major players along with Iran. Post its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States is demonstrating a lukewarm interest in Central Asian affairs. Prompting to fill the gap were Russia and China both of which have accelerated their political, economic and trade activities in the region. Alarmed by the $40 billion annual trade of China with the Central Asian republics as against its meagre $2 billion, India has put all its diplomatic and other channels into use to increase its presence in the region. The pivotal point of its strategy for the purpose is to bank on Russia’s clout over the Central Asian partners. Russia may certainly not be happy with its diminishing clout in Central Asia. Presently, India is working on several projects – including one of joint defence production with Russia in the former Soviet ordnance factories of Central Asia – to boost its economic and strategic relations and connectivity with countries in the region. Equally interested in the promotion of Central Asia’s trade and transit with the outside world, particularly through the Chabahar Port, is Russia, which is obviously receiving discouraging tides from NATO member states in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean due to its tension with Ukraine. Russia – though on good terms with China due to their common hostilities with the United States – may certainly not be happy with its diminishing clout in Central Asia in face of the constantly growing strategic and economic presence of Beijing in Central Asia and the Caucasus. The heads of the five Central Asian states held a joint virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the last week of January. The main focus at the summit was the opening of more trade routes between China and the Central Asian states. Speaking at the summit, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov called for an increased supply of gas from his oil and gas-rich country to China by constructing another pipeline. Similarly, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and Kyrgyz President Sardyr Japarov called for the implementation of rail-road projects between their countries and China. In his address, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to open the Chinese market to more goods and agricultural products from the Central Asian neighbours. He said his country planned to boost trade turnaround between China and the regional countries to $70 billion by 2030. However, more important than the China-Central Asia Summit was the summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the heads of all the five Central Asian states. Initially, the Central Asian leaders were slated to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. But the anxiously awaited sojourn in New Delhi was called off in the face of the worsening corona pandemic. The leaders were rather gathered in a virtual summit, where the major stress was to overcome irritants in land connectivity between India and Central Asia. Security and trade remained the main theme of the summit. Before the summit, India had also held two important meetings with all these states i.e. one at the level of National Security Advisors in November and the other at Foreign Ministers’ level in December last year. The NSA level meeting was also attended by Iran and Russia. Addressing the heads of the Central Asian states, Narendra Modi said: “We are all concerned about the developments in Afghanistan. In this context also, our cooperation has become even more important for regional security and stability.” The summit adopted a three-point Delhi Declaration in which it reiterated support for a “peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan with the truly representative and inclusive government.” The leaders agreed to set up a Working Group to monitor the situation in Afghanistan. The second point in Delhi Declaration was connectivity. The leaders agreed to utilize the services of Shahid Beheshti Terminal of Chabahar Port for boosting trade between India and Central Asia. It was also decided to make the India-Central Asia Summit a regular biannual feature with regular meetings between Foreign Ministers, Trade Ministers, Cultural Ministers and Secretaries of National Security Councils of the concerned sides. An India-Central Asia Secretariat was also set up in New Delhi. While structural issues served as modalities for cementing the India-Central Asia relationship, The major focus at the summit was to make Chabahar Port part of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) as ‘Pakistan is not allowing road link between India and Central Asia.’ The summit agreed to set up a working group for expediting efforts to use Chabahar Port for the “promotion of movement of goods and services between India and Central Asia.” That India is banking on the experiences and support of Iran and Russia for increasing connectivity and boosting security, political, economic, cultural and trade linkages with the Central Asian states is poised to heat activities and engagements in the landlocked Central Asia region and beyond in the Caucasus and the whole Eurasian belt. Giving equal impetus to regional connectivity is the China factor that is creating an environment of healthy competition, which had lost its lustre following the diminished enthusiasm in the Central Asian affairs on the part of the United States post its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The writer is an independent freelance journalist based in Islamabad covering South Asia/ Central Asia.