Involvement with Central Asian region will be a game changer for India.
- Central AsiaConsists of five countries (Kazakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan) collectively known as Central Asian Republics(CAR) and Underbelly of Eurasia.
Strategic Location of Central Asia:
- Geographic location of these countries makes them a bridge between different regions of Asia and between Europe and Asia.
- The strategic location played a significant role in “great game” and “new great game”.
- The struggle between the Tsarist Russia and Great Britain over Central Asia in the 19thand 20thcentury originally known as “great game”.
- It was a dispute for political dominance, control and security of the territories located between the Russian and British Empires.
New Great Game:
- It is a term used to “describe the modern geopolitics in Central Asia.
- It is characterized by a competition between the United States, Britain, and other NATO member states against Russia, China and other Central Asian States
- It is to expand regional connectivity, with links through trade, commerce, energy, ideology, ethnicity, and even terrorism.
India and Central Asia relations:
- Ancient kingdom of Kushan had territory in parts of both regions, India and in central asia.
- In Medieval ages, Muslims rules in India had their origin in Central Asia.
- After Second World War, Central Asia became part of USSR. India had good diplomatic engagement with the region due to friendly ties with Moscow.
- After the breakup of USSR in 1991, there seemed to be a drift in India’s relation with this region.
- However during the early 21st century the relationship startred improving.
- India realized that Security, stability and prosperity of Central Asia is imperative for peace and economic development of India, especially after US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
- To improve the relation with Central Asia the Government of India launched Connect Central Asia Policy.
- The Central Asia is considered to be part of India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’.
Connect Central Asia Policy:
- It is a broad-based Foreign Policy approach, including political, security, economic, and cultural connections with the region.
- This is to
- Tap the natural resources of Central Asia.
- Counter the hegemony of China in this region.
- This Policy was formally declared at Bishkek(Kyrgyzstan) by Minister of State(External Affairs) in June 2012.
- The policy outlined the following important points:
- India will continue to build strong political relations through exchange of high level visits.
- India will strengthen its strategic and security cooperation.
- India will step up multilateral engagement with Central Asian partners using the synergy of joint efforts through existing for a like the Shanghai Cooperation Organsiation, Eurasian Economic Community(EEC) and the Custom Union.
- India looks to Central Asia as a long term partner in energy and natural resources.
- The medical field is another area that offers huge potential for cooperation. India is ready to extend cooperation by setting up civil hospitals/clinics in Central Asia.
- India would like to assist in the setting up of a Central Asian University in Bishkek.
- India is working on setting up a Central Asian e-network with its hub in India, to deliver, tele-education and tele-medicine connectivity.
- As for land connectivity, India has reactivated the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
- India will jointly work to improve air connectivity
Areas of Cooperation
- The countries of Central Asia are endowed with significant hydrocarbon and mineral resources.
- Kazakhstan is the largest producer of uranium and has huge gas and oil reserves as well.
- Uzbekistan is also rich is gas, and is an important regional producer of gold along with Kyrgyzstan.
- Tajikistan has vast hydropower potential besides oil, deposits, and Turkmenistan has the fourth largest gas reserves of the world.
Geo-strategy – Strategic location of CAR
- India is losing its “immediate neighborhood” to China, which developed very good political and economic relations with nearly all of India’s neighbors, thereby strategically encircling India. This compel India to improve its relation with Central Asian countries (Mandal theory – your neighbour is your natural enemy and neighbour’s neighbour is your friend)
- To serve its vital interest (energy and security), India needs a stable and peaceful Central Asia and in bringing normalcy in Afghanistan.
Trade and Investment potential
- The economic development of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, leads to development of sectors like IT, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
- India has expertise in these sectors and deeper cooperation will give a fresh impetus to trade relations with these countries.
- To tackle the challenge of terrorism, narcotics trafficking and arms smuggling.
- Central Asian region holds strategic significance for India in its fight against terrorism.
- Indian and Kazakh armies engaged in a joint exercise to strengthen bilateral army-army ties and exchange information and skills.
- Central Asian countries and India share long cultural links, which will be crucial in reducing the threat of radicalisation by cooperating with each other.
- Lack of direct access to Central Asia: India to reach Central Asia, the shortest route goes via Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s hostility with India remains problematic for India to connect Central Asia.
- The unstable situation in Afghanistan and a highly problematic India-Pakistan relation have deprived India from the benefit of relations with Central Asia.
- Chinese presence: central Asia is part of Silk Road Economic Belt (BRI) initiative.India could not match the deep pockets of china.
- India’s role in Central Asia is restricted by the involvement of major powers in the region.
- Afghanistan remains a challenge especially after the withdrawal of US troops.
- Growing axis of Russia-China-Pakistan would limit India’s presence in Central Asia.
- The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) andIran-Pakistan-India (IPI)pipelines projects are not moving smoothly due to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
- There is growth of radicalism in recent times especially among the youth.
- India does not have institutional mechanisms to connect with Central Asia like the India-Africa forum.
Reasons why India-Central Asia relations were not achieved its fullest potential?
- Adequate attention was not given from India’s side on developing relations.
- India does not share physical borders with any of the Central Asian states.
- Trade has been conducted with Central Asia through China, which is time consuming and expensive.
- However, presently India has registered significant progress in developing good ties with Central Asia through following initiatives:
- Renovation of Chabahar port in Iran which will help in connecting to Eurasia
- Development of the International North-South Transport Corridor(INSTC) . INSTC is a multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran,
Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
- Becoming a member of Ashgabat Agreement. The Ashgabat agreementis a multimodal transport agreement between India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for creating an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. The agreement came into force in April, 2016.
- India became member of Shanghai Cooperation Organiztion(SCO). SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
- India became member of Eurasian Economic Union(EEU). EEU is a political and economic union of states located primarily in northern Eurasia.
- Apart from above, India regularly arranges cultural events in these countries.
- Central Asia is one of the largest beneficiaries of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program. India provides higher education at marginal cost to Central Asian students when compared to European and American universities
- The Connect Central Asia Policy must be implemented speedy with high level visits, strategic partnerships, comprehensive economic engagement, partnership in the development of energy and natural resources to ensure India’s strategic interests.
- India could use its soft power to increase its acceptability in Central Asia.
- India could regularly and frequently arranges cultural events in these countries and also provides scholarships for study in India of these disciplines by young men and women of these countries.
- India has large scope of enhancing cooperation by relaxing visa regime, Cooperation in I.T sector, medical service, etc.
- India could continue to show its faith in multilateral world order to save central asia from new great game.