India recently joined the Ashgabat Agreement. Ashgabat Agreement 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 synchronize 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 has also considered the issue of having a unified tariff for transit goods by rail.
India’s entry into Ashgabat Agreement comes a month after the inauguration of the first phase of the Shahid Beheshti terminal at Chabahar port on December 3, 2017. India had financed the terminal to the tune of $85 million. With the commissioning 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.
Connecting to Afghanistan via Chabahar has been essential for India. The route has already sent shipments of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar port. Afghanistan has already shifted 80 per cent of its cargo traffic from Pakistan’s Karachi port to Iran’s Bandar Abbas and Chabahar ports. More Afghan trade is expected to eventually shift to the Chabahar Port and will drastically reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan for transit of Afghan goods.
Ashgabat Agreement would enable India 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.
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.
India has also signed a bilateral agreement with Tajikistan in 2015 to enhance connectivity. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are already members of the INSTC. 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.