International North-South Transport Corridor

News: India might be compelled to recalibrate its strategy if plans for a Pakistan-Afghanistan-Uzbekistan (PAKAFUZ) railway make its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) redundant with respect to its Central Asian outreach efforts.

Background:

  • PAKAFUZ proposal is a proposed 573km railway project that will link Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent through Afghanistan capital Kabul and Pakistan’s northern city of Peshawar. This is expected to affect India as it was planning to expand its influence in Afghanistan through Iran’s Chabahar port.
  • The biggest worry for India now is that Afghanistan will now be much less reliant on the INSTC for access to the Indian Ocean due to its decision to participate in PAKAFUZ (which will essentially function as the northern branch of CPEC that can be described as N-CPEC). This will result in India being less able to “balance” Chinese influence in Central Asia, thereby compelling a further recalibration of its relevant strategy.

India’s position:

  • Instead of concentrating on Central Asia, India would arguably do better devoting much more time, attention, and efforts to expanding its reach across the Afro-Eurasian Rimland of the Indo-Pacific where it has much more opportunities than in the Eurasian Heartland.
  • Israel shared its transregional connectivity plans- the “Trans-Arabian Corridor” (TAC) with India back in December 2019. India should reconsider this. The seemingly forgotten joint Indo-Japanese Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) from a few years back could be revived.
  • India is already proceeding apace with respect to Russia via the Vladivostok-Chennai Maritime Corridor (VCMC) that Prime Minister Modi and President Putin announced during the former’s trip to the Far Eastern Russian city as the latter’s guest of honor for the 2019 Eastern Economic Forum.

About INSTC:

  • It is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight.
  • Regions involved: India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
  • Conceived well before China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), INSTC will not only help cut down on costs and time taken for transfer of goods from India to Russia and Europe via Iran but also provide an alternative connectivity initiative to countries in the Eurasian region.
  • This will also synchronize with the Ashgabat agreement, a Multimodal transport agreement signed by India, Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, for creating an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.