India recently joined the Ashgabat Agreement, which was instituted in April 2011 to establish an international multimodal transport and transit corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
- The Agreement was first signed by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman and Qatar on 25 April 2011.
- While Qatar subsequently withdrew from the agreement in 2013, Kazakhstan and Pakistan joined the grouping in 2016.
- The Ashgabat Agreement came into force in April 2016.
- Its objective is to enhance connectivity within the Eurasian region and synchronise it with other regional transport corridors, including the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
Among other things, the regional transport grouping is considering measures to create a “green” corridor for vehicles to reduce the time spent at railway checkpoints for replacing wheel sets, create favourable conditions and effective schemes for storing and handling cargo, and use of berths of sea ports. In order to increase the attractiveness of the routes as well as the volume of transit cargo, the group considered the issue of having a unified tariff for transit goods by rail.
India’s membership –
- On March 23, 2016, India had formally conveyed its interest in acceding to the Ashgabat Agreement.
- On February 1, 2018, Turkmenistan, as the depository State of the Ashgabat Agreement, informed India ‘that all the four founding members have consented to the accession of India (to the agreement).”
- India will now provide information to the Coordinating Committee with respect to all the details on taxes, fees, tariffs and other payments levied at the ports and checkpoints.
Significance for India –
- With the commissioning of the Shahid Beheshti terminal (at Chabahar Port) and India’s joining of the Ashgabat Agreement, a greater prospect now opens up for enlarging both the operational and practical scope of Chabahar to become a vital gateway and the shortest land route to Central Asia. The operation of a multi-purpose terminal at Chabahar including India’s plan to build a 610 km north-south railway from Chabahar to Zahedan couldn’t have been realised unless India joined a Ashgabat Agreement.
- Afghanistan has already shifted 80 per cent of its cargo traffic from Pakistan’s Karachi port to Iran’s Bandar Abbas and Chabahar ports. Reduced dependence on Pakistan for Afghanistan would be in the direct interests of India.
- India’s accession to the Ashgabat Agreement would enable us to utilise the existing transport and transit corridor to facilitate trade and commercial interactions with the Eurasian region. Further, this would synchronise with India’s efforts to implement the INSTC for enhanced connectivity.
- The Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan (ITK) railway line will be the major route under the Ashgabat Agreement. It also includes a part of the India-funded INSTC. Therefore, the Ashgabat Agreement and INSTC will be easily synchronised.
- In general, joining the Ashgabat Agreement would make it easier for India to reach out to Central Asia which houses strategic and high-value minerals including uranium, copper, titanium, ferroalloys, yellow phosphorus, iron ore, rolled metal, propane, butane, zinc, coking coal, etc.
- Kazakhstan alone wants to increase its non-oil exports by 50 per cent by 2025. And, without direct transport access, India cannot procure the Central Asian riches needed for its manufacturing economy.
Way forward –
- In the backdrop of joining the Ashgabat Agreement, India now must enlarge the strategic role of Chabahar port for evolving an integrated transportation network involving both the INSTC and the proposed transit corridor to Central Asia.
- India’s connectivity approach need not be limited to increasing trade and commerce but should aim to enhance investment and services, interlinking sources of raw material, centres of productions and markets between India and Eurasia.
India’s participation in Eurasian connectivity projects through the Ashgabat Agreement will serve to address the integration process under the EAEU and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in more viable ways.
Read the Background section of the above article. It is very important for this year’s Prelims examination.
“India’s accession to Ashgabat Agreement has opened many pathways to Central Asia.” Comment on this statement with respect to examining the significance of Ashgabat Agreement for India.