International North - South corridor

India will make a concerted push into Central Asia by taking charge of a crucial transportation network through Iran into Central Asia and beyond. After getting a thumbs up from 14 stakeholder countries in the region in January, experts from all the countries will meet in New Delhi on March 29 to put final touches to the project — the International North-South Corridor. The project envisages a multi-modal transportation network that connects ports on India’s west coast to Bandar Abbas in Iran, then overland to Bandar Anzali port on the Caspian Sea and through Rasht and Astara on the Azerbaijan border onwards to Russia. India will build the missing sections of the rail and road link in Iran, thus skirting US sanctions and paying for Iranian oil not with hard currency but through infrastructure projects like the corridor. Once complete, the International North-South Corridor would connect Europe and Asia in a unique way — experts estimate the distance could be covered in 25-30 days in what currently takes 45-60 days through the Suez Canal. This has been a win-win proposition for India since the North-South Corridor agreement was signed between India, Iran and Russia in September 2000. But over the years, the project fell into disuse. Iran made little attempt to complete construction on its side, expending little political or administrative energy. Neither did Russia or India, which preferred to talk about it but did little to push it. Meanwhile, 11 other countries, including all the Central Asian states, joined up. Several recent developments have changed India’s timid approach. First, China has been building an extensive road and railway network through Central Asia, aiming to touch Europe. It is fast, efficient and already on the ground. While this has made Central Asia accessible to China and others, it is worrying these countries no end. Over the past few years, Central Asian states have repeatedly approached India to play the balancing role. Second, with Pakistan in a state of almost chronic instability, India can never hope to access Central Asia through Pakistan. Its best bet remains Iran.

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