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Synopsis: India can unlock a lot of economic and geostrategic potential if it can connect with Central Asian nations.
Indian PM in a recently held SCO summit highlighted the importance of Central Asia. He also raised his concern over the connectivity issue with Central Asian countries because of the geographical disadvantage.
India’s trade with Central Asian countries was below $2bn in 2018. Most of the trade was routed through Iran, Russia and UAE. In contrast, according to the estimates, China’s trade was $5-bn-$60bn during this period. China has a huge advantage in its geographical location.
India is facing issues with connectivity such as:
Pakistan: Route through Pakistan is not possible because of the hostility between both of the countries.
Iran: India efforts went into vain with USA sanction on Iran over its suspected nuclear weapon programme.
Afghanistan: With the Taliban capturing Afghanistan, India faced a huge setback.
Importance of Central Asian nations to India
Central Asia includes fuel-rich countries that have the potential to fulfil the energy needs of India. Central Asia states are mineral-rich states. For example, Kazakhstan, a source of Uranium is beneficial for India’s nuclear power plants.
There is huge scope for collaboration in other sectors like building (power) transmission lines, contract farming, dairy sector, IT and enabled services, pharmaceuticals etc. Indian Sharda and Amity Universities have already set up their universities in Central Asian countries.
These countries are also struggling with terrorism and radicalization. India and Central Asian countries can come together to fight against it.
|Must read: India and Central Asia|
How India is trying to connect with Central Asia?
In the 1990s, India tried to explore the route through Iran’s Bandar Abbas Port and Mashad near the border with Turkmenistan to Central Asia but was unsuccessful.
In 2000, India along with Iran and Russia agreed on a new route which was later known as International North south Transit Cooridor (INSTC). The pact was again ratified in 2002. According to an ambassador of Azerbaijan to India,” INSTC offers a safe and cost-effective route to EU (European Union). It also offers 50% time-saving. In June this year, the first pilot project of paper products was successfully delivered from Finland via the territory of Azerbaijan to Nhava Sheva port of India.
In 2003, India with Iran announced the development of Chabahar port to find an alternate route to Central Asia.
The sanctions on Iran by the USA over suspected Nuclear power programmes slowed down the progress of INSTC and its impact was also visible on Chahbahar port. But, the INSTC will be the best option for India to strengthen relations with Central Asian countries, so India should diplomatically push other partners for the faster implementation of INSTC.
Source: This post is based on the article “India quest for a road to Central Asia” published in LiveMint on 1st October 2021.