India and Turkmenistan work together on transportation deals

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj paid her second visit to Turkmenistan in the past six months, shortly after Prime Minister Modi visited Ashgabat last July. The TAPI gas pipeline and Ashgabat Agreement on trade and transit are the main issues on the table for discussion, respectively concerning India’s energy security and regional connectivity.

The Ashgabat Agreement, which aims to develop a shortest trade route between Central Asian countries and Iranian and Omani ports, was initially signed between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman and Qatar back in April, 2011 and was given additional support in 2014 when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed. Whilst Oman called for early completion of basic technical requirements so that the corridor can be operational by 2015, Qatar withdrew from the agreement in 2013. However, Kazakhstan promised to join instead, which will increase the project’s significance and extend it further into Central Asia. The Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan (ITK) railway line will be the major route according to the Ashgabat Agreement, which became operational in December 2014 and was also included as part of India-funded North-South international transport corridor (NSITC).

Turkmenistan is attempting to consolidate its position as an important regional transit and transport hub, and has leveraged its geographical location though other rail projects as well including Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) rail line from 2013, Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transportation corridor in 2014, Iran-Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan railroad and TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) comprising the EU and 14 Eastern European, South Caucasus and Central Asian states.

As the Taliban insurgency puts Afghanistan’s ambition to be an Asian transportation hub in question, Turkmenistan is seizing the opportunity by continuing to make these deals. This strategy also works well  with India’s “Connect Central Asia” initiative. By increased involvement in Central Asia, India aims to participate in regional transportation connection developments outside of China’s One Belt One Road and Belt and Road Initiatives, to supplement the INSTC, diminish Pakistan’s leverage to cut India’s connectivity westward and optimize routes to the EEU and the EU.

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