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Silk Route runs afoul of red tape

Kazakhs believe their prosperity peaked when the Silk Route was at its busiest. A key element of Kazakhstan's foreign policy is to recreate a modern version of that historical corridor of ideas and wealth. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri reports.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2011 10:56 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Kazakhs believe their prosperity peaked when the Silk Route was at its busiest. A key element of Kazakhstan's foreign policy is to recreate a modern version of that historical corridor of ideas and wealth.

This is a perfect match with India's own search for stable land routes into Central Asia.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have invested in a rail link that starts in their countries, goes through Iran to the port of Bandar Abbas.

"This could allow a cargo container to go from Alma Aty to Gujarat by rail and sea," say Kazakh officials.

"This would open the door for even bulk cargo, like coal."

At present, India's land link to Central Asia via Iran is so expensive that it is cheaper for Indian goods to go to Kazakhstan via the Pacific coast of China.

Kazakhs say their portion of the new Iran rail link will be completed by December 2011, but the real problem is the red tape and corruption that ensnarl every container especially inside Iran.

China, in comparison, has a single travel document for all containers and infrastructure that allows rapid movement.

India has been working with Iran on two routes into Central Asia, the so-called North-South corridor as well as the shorter Bandar Abbas connection.

"Iranians are positive about making these work," say Indian sources.

"The two countries spoke about this only last month. But it is hard to tell about implementation on the Iranian side."

But India also wants to retain and streamline the China Pacific trade link as this is only way to reach countries like Mongolia.

There is an overall need for India to reform transport facilitation links with the rest of the world.

Even Indian shipping rates to the Persian Gulf are above average. It costs more to transport cargo from Mumbai to Rotterdam than it does Shanghai to Rotterdam - the latter is twice the distance yet half the cost, say Indian sources.

And much of this is India's formidable in-house ability to generate suffocating rules and regulations.

Hackers behind cyber pact
Chinese hackers may have inspired the memorandum between India and Kazakhstan on cybersecurity.

The agreement was proposed by the Indian side but found ready acceptance with the Central Asian government.

Kazakhstan, an oil and gas-rich nation, was targeted by coordinated cyber attacks by a group of hackers who sought to break into the computers of energy firms and secure data on oil, gas and petrochemicals.