India, Iran and Russia are planning to launch the North-South international transport corridor in the near future, which will connect the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean regions with Russia and Northern Europe through Iran and the Caspian Sea.
The North-South transport corridor will pass from India to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf coast, from where goods will be transported by road to another Iranian port of Bandar-Enzeli, located on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Further, the cargo will be shipped by sea to Astrakhan and then by rail through Russia to the countries of Northern Europe. The length of the route will be 7200 kilometers. The North-South transport corridor should turn into one of the key transport arteries connecting the countries of South Asia with Europe. After the launch of this corridor, for example, India should get another trade route to Europe and Central Asia.
The idea of creating such a transport corridor arose in 1993. In September 2000, during the II International Eurasian Conference on Transport in St. Petersburg, Russia, India and Iran signed an intergovernmental agreement on the creation of the North-South route, which by May 2002 was ratified by all participants and entered into force.
One option is to consider the route along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, connecting Russia and Iran via the railways of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and the third along the western coast of the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan. The end points of this transport corridor in Russia should be the Baltic ports, as well as crossings on the border with Finland, Belarus and the Baltic countries. In the south, the route ends at the ports of the Persian Gulf, from where cargo is delivered by sea to India. The land routes of New Delhi and Tehran are not yet considered.
The main lobbyist of the project today is the Indian side. Delhi considers the North-South project as the shortest transport route connecting the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf through Iran to Russia and Northern Europe. And this will allow access to resource-rich Central Asia.
It should be particularly noted that the project of the North-South corridor will be implemented in conditions when China has already started to implement its One Belt - One Way Project, aimed at building latitudinal transport communications with Europe through Russia, Central Asia, the Middle and Near East. One of the “Belt and Paths” routes will pass through Iran, on whose territory it will intersect with this “North-South” route. It is competition with Beijing for influence in Central Asia, which India regards as a strategically important and well-resourced region, and is one of the most obvious reasons for lobbying New Delhi to build the North-South transport corridor. Tensions between the two largest economies in Asia are well known. However, the open rivalry of their transport projects has not yet been observed.
India’s attention to Central Asia is also evidenced by its desire to engage in this North-South project located in the south-east of Iran, the port of Chabahar. An agreement was signed on the transit of goods through the port of Chabahar, which is planned to be used to create a transit corridor providing access to the sea of Afghanistan. This country analysts refer to the region of Central Asia. It is possible to ensure the transit of Afghan cargo to the sea through the territory of the same Iran, which will allow India to create a transport route bypassing Pakistan, which is a long-time ally of China and the main enemy of India.
It is clear that India has recently paid increased attention to the development of Chabahar. In May 2015, an agreement on joint development of the port was signed between Iran and India, under which the Indian side pledged to finance the construction of two terminals, which allow handling up to 9 million tons of cargo per year. Among other things, Chabahar was supposed to unload the main port of Iran on the Persian Gulf coast - Bandar Abbas. In May 2016, Iran, India and Afghanistan signed a tripartite agreement in Tehran to create a new transport route on the base of Chabahar, which was to bypass Pakistan. The agreement was signed in the presence of Iranian presidents Hassan Rouhani, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani. At the same time, India announced plans to invest in the development of the port $ 500 million.
In 2018, the Indian side openly declared that it would allocate $ 150 million for the development of Chabahar and consider the format of its participation in the construction of the 600-kilometer Chabahar-Zahedan railway, which should link the port with the Afghan transport system. Delhi regards Chabahar as a transit hub for the entire region. The reason for such attention to the port is the location of Chabahar on the route connecting India with the countries of Central Asia. It is precisely this that prompts India to invest in the development of the transport and port infrastructure of Chabahar.
However, the project of the North-South transport corridor in its current form has rather complex logistics. Double or even triple transshipment of goods from sea to road and rail transport and vice versa can lead to the fact that the delivery of goods compared to cheap sea transport will be too expensive. We should not forget that India within the North-South project is pursuing not only economic, but also geopolitical interests, seeking to expand trade ties and strengthen its influence in the Central Asian region.