Ashgabat, 1 December 2017 (nCa) — Even if necessity is not the mother of invention, there is very close connection between the two.
The pervasive necessity was – has always been – the need to connect the people and regions across the Eurasian landmass through convenient, safe corridors for the sake of free movement of people and cargo. The invention was Silk Road.
When Genghis, and after him, Timur, bulldozed their way across the Eurasian landmass, they unclogged the vast network of trails collectively called Silk Road. Even if it was an unplanned byproduct of their adventurism, the resulting periods of prosperity were a boon for all.
The necessity has met invention again.
The discovery of the sea route between Europe and India by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498 was the death knell for the Silk Road. At least, that is what it appeared to be.
Nevertheless, as we see now, the Silk Road didn’t die; it merely went into a coma from which it is emerging fast now, being resuscitated vigorously by the governments across the Eurasian landmass.
Individually they have surname Corridor – North-South Corridor, East-West Corridor, Lapis Lazuli Corridor, Central Asia-Middle East Corridor, etc. However, their collective name is Great Silk Road.
The difference between then and now is that instead of the trails in sand and across tough terrains, they are now well defined lines drawn in asphalt or iron, or equally well defined but imaginary lines on water and in the air.
The necessity when da Gama was wandering the seas was to find a fast and cheap route between Europe and South Asia. The ships proved to be faster and cheaper, and also safer, than the camel caravans back then.
The ships are also the undoing of the sea routes as far as Eurasian landmass is concerned.
The problem here is that the ships have gained tremendously in size and carrying capacity but not much in speed. What with piracy and the unscrupulous practices of sea captains, the sea routes are not quite as safe and reliable as they used to be.
On the other hand, the rail and road transportation systems have given speed and security to the cargo.
As we have seen recently, the train from China to Iran can reach in about a week. The train on BTK (Baku-Tbilisi-Kars) route takes about 72 hours to make the journey. The train from Afghanistan to Europe should theoretically take about a week. The cargo from Gawadar in Pakistan to Almaty in Kazakhstan will take about a week through multimodal connectivity. The cargo from Mumbai to Herat will take nearly the same time through Chabahar port of Iran.
It is important to take note of the fact that Corridor is not the surname of every corridor.
In fact, we have potentially lot more corridors just waiting to happen.
For example, the Energy Charter, with nearly 90 members – about half the membership of the United Nations – is a corridor by another name. With the modernization of the Energy Charter Treaty, it will become a platform for energy corridors, fully equipped to address the questions of safety and reliability of energy resources in transit.
The ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization), with headquarters in Tehran, is another corridor that just needs the signing of some additional agreements among the member countries.
The SCO is a powerful corridor material. The trade and economic cooperation element of SCO is actually a corridor, fully compatible with the regional aspirations as well as the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) of China.
Every regional organization is a corridor by another name. All that needs to be done is to sit down together and see how every concept meshes with every other concept in the connectivity mix. The success is assured if the option to learn from the mistakes remains on the table. /// nCa