The Role of INSTC in India’s Central Asian Strategy

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Within the scope of the changing and developing balances of Eurasia, different corridor projects are desired to be implemented. In particular, rising production and power centers play a key role in the realization of these corridor projects in order to reach the West. For example, China has been the main pioneer of this by declaring the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. Today, it takes the initiative to realize various projects in various countries of the world in relation to the mentioned initiative.

The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is a 7,200 km long corridor project with both sea and land dimensions in which India, Iran and Russia are active. Although India is a rising power center, its main target can reach Russia and Europe. Since Russia is an energy hub and Europe is a market, the project in question gains great importance. Dating back to 2002, INSTC’s route starts from Mumbai, India, through the Arabian Sea to Iran, and then to Russia and Europe via the Caspian Region, covering the Caucasus and Central Asia.[1]

Although the foundations of the project in question went back to the early 2000s, serious steps were not taken in the development of the project for a long time. However, with the start of the Russia-Ukraine War, the states began to give importance to the corridor in question. In fact, the first transfer of goods between states through INSTC was carried out in June-July 2022. At this point, Russia aims to export energy to India at a lower cost and reach the Indian market. Thus, it will be easier for the West to overcome the sanctions imposed.[2] While Iran transforms its geopolitical position to the main line on the north-south route; it will both gain economic gain and weaken the sanctions imposed by the West.

It can be said that India has more comprehensive aims. First of all, New Delhi will be able to reach Russian energy resources in a short time with less cost. It will also be able to enter the Russian market, which has weakened due to the sanctions imposed by the West. More importantly, it will be able to reach Europe and turn into a production center in the eyes of the West.

However, it is known that there is competition between India and China on various issues. At this stage, it can be said that New Delhi will highlight INSTC as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In addition, the New Delhi administration, which is trying to increase its economic capacity through INSTC, aims to become an effective actor like China with the relations it has established in the context of the corridor.

One of the geographies that India wants to influence is Central Asia. Because the region has important underground riches. It also has a critical geopolitical importance as it is located in the heart of Asia. New Delhi, which wants to take action in the face of Beijing’s increasing activities and strengthening relations in the region, will use INSTC as a tool. In this process, India is not only in Central Asia; It will also be an active actor in Afghanistan, which Pakistan sees as an important geography.

As it is known, there are disagreements between India and Pakistan on various issues, as well as with China. New Delhi thinks that it wants to be surrounded by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is intended to be implemented between Islamabad and Beijing. At this point, India aims to both break the containment and respond to it by encircling it by reaching out to Afghanistan and Central Asia via INSTC. It is possible to read the normalization process between India and the Taliban in the last year from this perspective.

In summary, INSTC’s interest in Central Asia is primarily related to its location on the route used to reach Russia. Because INSTC, which passes over the Caspian Region, is divided into three branches in this geography. In addition to the route along the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, there is also a route between Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. In addition, in June-July 2022, the first goods transfer between India and Russia, namely the Russia-South Asia connection, was carried out through Central Asia.[3]

Due to the situation in question, various steps are being taken to implement INSTC today. However, it should be noted that; INSTC is not expected to be limited to these routes. Because it is thought that a geographical link should be established in order to strengthen the relations between India and Central Asia and increase the trade volume. Here, it can be said that the New Delhi administration will follow a strategy similar to Beijing’s policies. In this context, various infrastructure projects will be tried to be realized in the process of realizing the corridor. Afterwards, it is likely that the relations with the party countries will deepen and expand in a multidimensional way, from energy to mining and agriculture to technology. For example, India is trying to show that it will become an important actor and partner in Central Asia by giving the message that it is about to finish a project in Tajikistan.[4]

As a result, the changing power centers have brought with them a transforming world system. In addition to the West, new centers of power are emerging in Asia. One of the last examples of this is INSTC and hence India. The New Delhi administration wants to deepen its relations with different countries through various projects related to INSTC by adopting a roadmap similar to Beijing’s strategy in the Belt and Road Initiative. Central Asia can be seen as the region where the first test will be given for India. In this context, India can add a global vision to INSTC if it gains economic and geopolitical gains in its relations with Central Asian states.

[1] “India and Russia To Connect Supply Chains Via Iran’s INSTC”, Silk Road Briefing,, (Date of Accession: 05.04.2023).

[2] Charu Sudan Kasturi, “Is the INSTC Russia’s New Economic Escape Route?”, Al Jazeera,, (Date of Accession: 05.04.2023).

[3] Jagannath P. Panda, “Revitalizing INSTC: Analyzing Geopolitical Realignments and the China Factor”, Institute for Security&Development Policy,, (Date of Accession: 05.04.2023).

[4] “India Becomes a Key Player in Central Asia Riding on Infra Projects”, Economic Times,, (Date of Accession: 05.04.2023).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.