Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Russia at a time when Delhi-Moscow relationship appears to have taken a dip. Modi faces two-pronged challenge. First, to strengthen the confidence India and Russia have enjoyed as strategic partners for decades. Second, take measures to bring Moscow out of the worrisome China-Pakistan-Russia triangle, more so after the start of Beijing’s imperialistic ‘One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project.
While reports say that the highlight of Modi’s Russia visit would be the signing of an agreement to build the last two units of the Kundankulam nuclear power plant with Moscow’s help, there is another project — International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) — that India wants to fastrack along with Russia to present a counter to OBOR.
Much before the launch of China’s OBOR, India, Russia and Iran had signed an agreement to establish the INSTC in September 2000. It entered into force on May 16, 2002 following ratification by the three countries. Later, 11 other countries joined the project. They are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria (observer status), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey and Ukraine.
INSTC is a 7200-km-long proposed multi-modal (ship, rail and road) transportation system connecting Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran to Russia and North Europe. If complete, the INSTC would allow faster movement of goods from India to these countries.
According to ‘Russia & India Report’, the INSTC project was first proposed at the start of 21st century, when the three countries– India, Iran and Russia — discussed the possibility of reviving the ancient transport route.
The report says that “the main ITC route begins in the ports on the west coast of India (particularly Mumbai), passes along the sea to the Iranian ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas, and from there by land to Iran’s Caspian Sea coast and beyond – or across the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, or overland to Central Asia or the Caucasus to Russia and northern Europe.”
Here are some important features of INSTC:
- INSTC will provide India speedy access to central Asia, Europe, and Eurasia.
- The route of INSTC passes through Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, which can later be linked to Terhran’s Chabahar Port, where India has set up some major infrastructure projects.
- INSTC will help connect India with five central Asian countries and also to the Eurasian nations, helping in improving India’s trade with countries like Kazakhstan, Turmenistan and Uzbekistan.
- INSTC can aslo be aligned with Trans-Afghan rail line being developed by India, Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
Seventeen years have passed since the start of the project but it is yet to be started. While the scale of China’s OBOR is bigger than INSTC, the latter, coupled with the proposed Asia-Africa sea corridor by India and Japan, would help New Delhi present an effective counter to China’s OBOR.
Reports say that India is also exploring the possibility of developing a 700-km rail line between Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat in Afghanistan. This will help link central Asia with Chabahar. It is believed that India aims to use Chabahar port in Iran in the same way as China wants to use Gwadar port in Pakistan, which is just 72 km east of the Iranian port. Considering the rapidly changing geopolitical dynamics in the world, India needs to take steps for the faster completion of the ambitious INSTC project.