http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/...develop-iron-ore-mine/articleshow/7355094.cms NEW DELHI: Afghanistan has invited 15 Indian companies to make initial bids for an iron ore mine in the country, which if successful, could compel India to reconfigure diplomatic equations with Pakistan and Iran. The bids to develop the Hagijak iron ore mine in Bamiyan, Wardak and Parwan provinces were invited last week. These companies were out of a total of 22 companies who had showed interest. The Indian government is trying to make it a consolidated bid by the different Indian companies, in which case it could be a negotiated deal with Afghanistan. While the diplomatic effort with Afghanistan is being driven by the external affairs ministry, the endeavour to band together a consortium of the Indian companies is being driven by the mines ministry. "We promote private and public sector interests equally in foreign countries," said S Vijay Kumar, secretary mines. If successful, India will have to seriously rethink its diplomatic equations with both Pakistan and Iran. Quite apart from the security, India will need to answer a fundamental question: how to evacuate the iron ore from Bamiyan, in the heart of Afghanistan, to the nearest port? The Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement allows the movement of goods to India from Afghanistan via Pakistan. Sources said, that could be a possible route, even yielding transit revenues to Pakistan. However, given the parlous state of India-Pakistan relations, what are the bets that Pakistan will find a way of stopping that route? This route, said sources, is vulnerable in terms of security but it's the shortest. It was the same argument used for the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, but security concerns trumped that time. The other route is through Iran. India has already built a road to the Iran border in Afghanistan. If Iran and India could agree on India developing the Chahbahar port, it could be an easy way of getting the ore to sea. But here, the problem is two-fold. First, Afghan-Iran relations are in terrible shape at present, with Iran blocking the transit of fuel into Afghanistan. India and Iran have a deadlocked relationship, most recently hit by an oil payments problem. On the iron ore mine, the Afghan government has promised to shortlist companies who will make detailed bids by August, and wants the project underway in 2012. Indian companies like Jindal Steel, JSW Steel, Tata Steel, NMDC, Steel Authority of India and Ispat Industries among others have said they are interested. China's $3 billion investment to develop the Aynak copper mines in Afghanistan has spurred India to leverage its political goodwill in the country for resources. The interest sharpened after reports that Afghanistan is sitting atop a veritable treasure trove of minerals and metals. Afghan officials have told the Indians that they wanted to diversify their stakeholders from China -- in the present instance only one Chinese company has been invited to bid for the Hagijak mine. The initial bids for Hagijak were cancelled, sources said, after the Afghan government said they suspected bribes had been paid. But none of this was confirmed. A statement by the Afghan mines minister, Wahidullah Shahrani, said, "The development of Hajigak will involve major infrastructure improvements and will stimulate the local economy and improve and lives of the citizens of Bamiyan province and beyond.