The struggle for the North-South corridors and for access to the Indian Ocean

29.04.24 9:55

The Indian Ocean basin is gradually becoming the epicentre of global economic activity. India is not only beginning to compete with China for the status of "the world's workshop", but it is also competing with Europe and the US for the status of "the centre of scientific and technological progress". China is no longer a competitor to India in this regard. The majority of programmers worldwide are either from India or of Indian origin. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as there are significantly more Hindu programmers than Chinese, Koreans and other East Asians. India is currently engaged in the active development of scientific research in key industries, which are practically implemented into life.


In general, the development of science and high technology in South India has effectively debunked the racist myth that all science and culture in the Indian subcontinent was supposedly carried by "Aryans" from the north, and the dark-skinned inhabitants of South India of Dravidian origin were "backward". The majority of scientists, programmers, and high-tech workers in India today are precisely of relatively dark-skinned Southerners, Dravidians.


The phenomenon of the global south being integrated into the high-tech sector may spread to Africa. In this context, the prediction of the imminent rapid development of science and technology in the countries of "Black" Africa adjacent to the Indian Ocean (South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia) appears to be a realistic one.


The Indian Ocean basin will inevitably "catch up and overtake" China and the related Asia-Pacific region in its development. Furthermore, India already has "leading cities" on a global scale in terms of high technology. Consequently, the undisputed centre of high technologies in the Indian Ocean basin today is the South Indian city of Bangalore in the state of Karnataka. Bangalore is considered to be the centre of a kind of "Silicon Valley of Asia" located in the south of India. The concentration of IT companies in Bangalore, along with the Indian aerospace industry and biotechnology, has led to the transformation of the city into the third-largest metropolis in India in terms of population and the first in terms of scientific potential. Bangalore and its environs are now home to approximately half of all Indian start-ups, and India's IT exports are largely concentrated in this region. Other countries in the Indian subcontinent are also experiencing rapid development. Scientific and industrial centres in neighbouring Pakistan are attempting to "catch up and overtake India", actively developing science and high technologies. As in the era of the Great Geographical Discoveries, "the world is striving for India". In parallel, neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, as well as other countries in the Indian Ocean basin, from Indonesia to the countries of East and South Africa, are also experiencing rapid development. However, at the outset of the colonial era, the "revolutionary logistical breakthrough" was the discovery of a sea route to the Indian Ocean and India (initiated by the renowned voyage of Vasco da Gama). In contrast, the "breakthrough" of the present era will be the establishment of land logistics. Those countries that will "ride" the principal overland logistics routes from Europe to the Indian Ocean basin will lay the foundation for their development for decades to come.


Paradoxically, the densely populated and dynamically developing zone of the Indian Ocean basin (especially the Indian Peninsula) is adjoined by a strip of countries that were recently considered to be the "backyard of the world economy". Of key importance among them is Afghanistan, through which the shortest route from the Indian subcontinent to Central Asia and on to Europe passes. In Central Asia, the Turkic states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan are of great logistical importance. On 23 April 2024, a ministerial meeting of the countries participating in the multimodal transport corridor "Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan" was held on the border with Afghanistan in the Uzbek city of Termez. Heads of transport departments and business representatives attended the meeting. The participants discussed the possibilities of increasing the volume of international freight traffic via overland corridors, enhancing the role of the CIS countries, Central and South Asia in the global transport and logistics system of Eurasia.


Uzbekistan voiced plans to create a multimodal transport corridor that will connect Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Negotiations have already been held between the transport ministers of the countries participating in this project to establish a new transport corridor.


The participants engaged in a discourse concerning the potential for Uzbekistan to serve as a conduit for transporting goods between Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and South Asian countries. This would be accomplished through the development of a multimodal transport corridor, which would enhance the transit potential of Uzbekistan.

The Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan multimodal corridor is projected to facilitate an increase in the volume of cargo transit traffic and to result in the saving of billions of dollars through the establishment of a new trade route between these countries.


Nevertheless, there is also a railway project from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean via Afghanistan. In February 2021, the authorities of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan signed a roadmap for the construction of the railway "Termez - Mazar-e-Sharif - Kabul - Peshawar" in Tashkent. The implementation of the project was somewhat impeded by the change of power in Afghanistan. However, in late 2023, it was decided to accelerate the construction of the railway.


The estimated cost of the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway project is $8.2 billion. This nearly 600-kilometre railway will provide a new route to Pakistan's seaports for Uzbekistan and countries in the region. If the project is fully operational, it will be possible to deliver goods from Uzbekistan to Pakistan in 3-5 days, as opposed to the current 35 days. Shipping one standard sea container to the destination will become three times cheaper. It is estimated that the volume of cargo traffic on this road could reach 10 million tonnes per year.


The importance of such projects of access from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean also lies in the fact that they connect Central Asia itself with the Middle Corridor, which links China and Europe via the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus. Concurrently, in Azerbaijan, the Middle Corridor will intersect with the most favourable North-South logistics route from Russia via Azerbaijan and Iran to the Indian Ocean. To ensure a direct railway connection between the Indian Ocean and Russia via Azerbaijan, only the short railway line Resht-Astara remains to be completed. However, the implementation of this project is deliberately delayed by Iran, although Russia, according to the latest information, is attempting to accelerate the process with its "ally" in every possible way.


In one way or another, Azerbaijan and Turkic countries of Central Asia are interested in access to the Indian Ocean and in assisting their economic and political partners to achieve this goal. At the same time, however, Iran, which is of "Aryan" ethnicity, is also pursuing its policy of "piercing corridors" to the Indian Ocean. It appears that Iran wants to make the corridors through its territory "maximally Aryan" with minimal participation of Turkic states.


Consequently, Iran is interested in establishing a link from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, considering this Iranian-speaking country as an outpost in Central Asia. Tehran has promised to provide Tajikistan with access to the port of Chabahar and direct access to the Indian Ocean. Conversely, Iran is attempting to "cram" transit from the Indian Ocean to the north and west through the Republic of Armenia, driven not only by economic considerations but also by purely political motives. Furthermore, these Iranian initiatives have the potential to impede the realistically promising projects of connecting the countries of Europe and northern Eurasia with the dynamically developing economies of the Indian Ocean basin.


Alexandre Gedevanishvili

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