By Pathik Hasan
The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a 7,200km long multi-mode transport project for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Ukraine. It is a strategic significant connectivity project in Central Asia and Europe. It is a not a new concept, as the current INSTC project was initiated by Russia, India, and Iran in September 2000 in St. Petersburg. The agreement was signed on 16th May 2002. Now all parties specially India, Iran and Russia are working to come bring the INSTC to life.
The INSTC connects Mumbai to Moscow and passes through Iran and Azerbaijan. India is very interested to include the Iran’s Chabahar Port to facilitate such connectivity. There are huge Indian investments in Iran. India has good ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The INSTC extends from Mumbai to Chabahar via Azerbaijan to Moscow, offering much potential for India’s regional connectivity plans.
According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, enhancing the connectivity of the INSTC will facilitate the transportation of goods and improve trading links between India, Russia, and Iran.
Sri Lanka differs in that it is an island economy and has been utilizing this in terms of developing and redeveloping its maritime facilities in international trade and commerce. Long known, even to the ancient Greeks as a maritime hub in South Asia, Colombo Port is poised to hasten a reset in regional maritime trade capabilities.
Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port is considered as epicentre in South Asia. Sri Lankan ports can be used a regional maritime hub between South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. That in turn gives two additional important connectivity routes: via the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) from Iran’s Chabahar Port through to Central Asia, the Caucasus, Turkey, the Eastern EU and Russia. Then of course the Suez Canal route through to the Mediterranean.
The INSTC will reduce the time and cost of delivering goods by more than 40 percent in comparison with the Suez Canal. Russian and India Foreign Ministers positively assessed the economic cooperation noting new opportunities in the Russian Far East. They spoke of connectivity including the INSTC with the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to India in April this year. The approach in New Delhi is to provide faster and cheaper connectivity to Beijing ‘s Belt and Road Initiative.
At a connectivity conference in Tashkent in July, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar projected Iran’s Chabahar port as a key regional transit hub, including to Afghanistan, suggesting the inclusion of Chabahar port with such connectivity plans. This connectivity project will help the regional states to be connected.
India has proposed to include the Chabahar port in the framework of the INSTC and has welcomed the formation of the India-Uzbekistan-Iran-Afghanistan Working Group on the joint use of Chabahar port. A meeting of the joint group likely to be held under that framework later this year on joint use of the port.
The main objectives of the project are to revive ancient transport routes and to connect the Indian ocean to the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. This is a shorter passage between Russia and India via Iran and Central Asian states. Consequently, this is an opportunity for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
There is potential for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to utilize the INSTC connectivity. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are neighboring countries of India, with links between Sri Lankan, Indian and Bangladeshi ports. Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi Ports can be connected with this project via the Mumbai – Chennai port and Iran’s Chabahar port. The diplomatic relations amongst Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India are solid, while Colombo, Chittagong port and Mongla port can be connected directly with the project for the benefit of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh trade and exports.
Connectivity is essential for every country. As a rising economic star in South Asia, Bangladesh can participate in the project for its own business interests. As a regional developmental partner, Sri Lanka can reap the benefits from the connectivity projects.
The Bangladesh economy is currently booming, with renowned economists describing it as the latest South Asian economic miracle. The current ruling party, Bangladesh Awami League is trying its best to make the country socio-economically prosperous under the leadership of Premier Sheikh Hasina.
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Central Asia can be connected through this route. There is a huge market for Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi products. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh’s garments sector is one of the world’s largest, although it needs cotton and other materials. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can easily import cotton from central Asian states, wheat from Russia, while seeking investment from these countries. Bangladesh can export leather, apparel and potato to the Central Asian states, Russia and China.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would be able to increase its exports to Iran and seek investment from Tehran through using the Chabahar port. Although Iran and Russia suffer from US sanctions, India can help Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in this regard. Bangladesh’ s target is to become a developed country. India would be a great development partner for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh both.
Asia is well aware of the Afghanistan crisis. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can take part in the development process (Socio-economic-infrastructure) in Afghanistan if the situation is normal and stagnant. This connectivity project will pave the way.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would like to play a role to ensure regional stability. Its aim is to boost the economic standing of its people along all regions. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would like to be an active partner of this development within South Asia and Eurasia.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen attended the “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity – Challenges and Opportunities” conference held in Tashkent in July, demonstrating the national interest.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh may seek to sign Free Trade Agreements with Eurasian states to obtain duty free access. Combining efforts among all states to establish connectivity in Central and South Asia can open new avenues of cooperation.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has tried to boost connectivity with its neighboring countries and playing a leading role through the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and have initiated connections with Bhutan, India, , Thailand, Nepal, and Myanmar and the ASEAN nations.
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are also trying to engage in various connectivity projects through sea and road, rail routes respectively. with the neighboring countries cooperation. In today’s world, there is no alternative other than connectivity with other states. A new aspiration is for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to be part of this. The new potential is for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. to be connected with the INSTC.