India on Thursday said the Iranian government was free to choose its partners for the development of the Chabahar seaport project. “It is the prerogative of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to choose its partners for the development of infrastructure facilities there,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at a media briefing. Kumar’s comments come soon after Iran invited Pakistan to join the project.

Kumar, however, said India was supporting the development of Chabahar Port as a robust and alternate access route to and for Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is seen as a trade route that will bypass Pakistan completely.

On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had said the project was not meant to “encircle Pakistan…strangulate anybody” in an effort to allay Islamabad’s fears about Indian involvement in the Chabahar project. “Our relations with India, just like Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia, are not against Pakistan as we understand Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are not against Iran,” Zarif had said.

The Chabahar project is also seen as a counter step to the Gwadar Port that Pakistan is developing with investment from China. Zarif had also recommended linking the two projects. He had said that both the Chabahar project and the Gwadar port – which is an important link in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project – are crucial for the development of Eastern and South Eastern Iran, and South Western Pakistan. “We are taking measures to do that and there is an open invitation to Pakistan to participate in that,” Zarif had said.