At the Centre: On India-Central Asia summit

News: Recently, the Prime Minister has hosted the India-Central Asia Summit in virtual format. Both India and Central Asian Republics (CARs) have agreed on more structured engagement, including the setting up of joint working groups, on Afghanistan and Chabahar, and more educational and cultural opportunities.

Must read: India-Central Asia Virtual Summit
What are the challenges highlighted in the India-Central Asia summit?

Lack of access to land routes: With Pakistan denying India transit trade, India is forced to explore other options. But these options have certain challenges. For instance,

a) Chabahar port initiative: It involves greater investment in rail and road routes to Iran’s northern boundaries with the CARs, something India is hesitant to do in the face of U.S. sanctions.

b) International North South Transport Corridor(INSTC)This is not fully operational and at least two CARs (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) are not members of INSTC. 

Low trade volume between India and Central Asia: A paltry $2 billion, spent mostly on Kazakhstan’s energy exports to India. In comparison, China’s CAR trade figures have exceeded $41 billion — they could double by 2030 — apart from the billions of dollars invested in the Belt and Road Initiative.

The situation in Afghanistan: It is a weak link between Central Asia and South Asia. After the Taliban takeover, there is no official government, a humanitarian crisis is building, and there are worries of terrorism and radicalism spilling over its boundaries.

Apart from that, India – CARs relations are also hampered by other players in the region. For instance, 1) Pakistan has signed transit trade agreements with CARs, offering trade access to the Indian Ocean at Gwadar and Karachi, 2) China is now the biggest development and infrastructure partner to the CAR countries, 3) Russia is one of the most strategic players in the CAR Region.

Must read: India – Central Asia Relations – Explained, pointwise
What should India do to improve its relations with the CARs?

First, India should institutionalise exchanges and increase the trade, investment and development partnerships with the CARs.

Second, India should take active steps to make future ties more closely resemble the deep ties of the past.

Read more: Recent developments in India-Central Asia relations

Source: This post is based on the article “At the Centre: On India-Central Asia summit” published in The Hindu on 28th January 2022.

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