International North – South Transport Corridor

  • India, Iran and Russia had in September 2000 signed the INSTC agreement to build a corridor to provide the shortest multi-model transportation route linking the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran and St Petersburg. ‘
  • 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.
  • From St Petersburg, North Europe is within easy reach via the Russian Federation. The estimated capacity of the corridor is 20-30 million tonnes of goods per year.
  • The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road.
  • The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali and etc.

Significance of the corridor:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.



Why India Can’t Bank on the International North-South Transport Corridor?


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.


What’s the issue?

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.


What lies ahead for India?

  1. 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.
  2. Israel shared its transregional connectivity plans- the “Trans-Arabian Corridor” (TAC) with India back in December 2019. India should reconsider this.
  3. The seemingly forgotten joint Indo-Japanese Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) from a few years back could be revived.
  4. 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.