CARs of foreign policy: Uzbekistan’s troubles are a reminder of Central Asian Republics’ importance to India

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Source: This post is based on the article “CARs of foreign policy: Uzbekistan’s troubles are a reminder of Central Asian Republics’ importance to India” published in The Times of India on 5th Jul 22.

Syllabus: GS2 – International Relations – India and its neighborhood

Relevance: India’s foreign policy and related issues

News: Last week’s unrest in Uzbekistan’s autonomous region of Karakalpakstan that left at least 18 people dead and wounded another 243 should concern India.

Uzbekistan is a key Central Asian Republic that borders Afghanistan.

What are the reasons behind the protest?

Protests in Karakalpakstan broke out over plans to revise the Uzbek constitution that would change the autonomous region’s status and curtail its right to secede. Those plans have now been put on hold.

Map of Aral located in Karakalpakstan Republic. (Source: Springtime of... | Download Scientific Diagram
Source: Researchgate
How have the countries reacted to the situation?

Despite Karakalpakstan’s close ties with Russia, Moscow has backed Tashkent saying the unrest was Uzbekistan’s internal matter.

Why the unrest in CAR is problematic for the entire region?

Islamist extremism here received a second wind with the conflict in Syria. And though regional governments have been largely successful in containing extremist groups, the latter could still take advantage of any social, economic or political turmoil.

That would be bad news given Taliban’s return in Afghanistan. Security implications stretch all the way to South Asia.

This is precisely why in November 2021 India hosted the national security advisers of the five CARs for its regional security dialogue on Afghanistan, and the Prime Minister held a virtual summit with the leaders of these nations earlier this year.

Way forward

India’s outreach to the CARs must have a strong economic component.

With Uzbekistan, India in 2020 concluded agreements on 15 investment projects for $3 billion and also extended a line of credit of $448 million. Plus, both Amity and Sharda universities opened branches in Uzbekistan in 2018.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan is a uranium giant and Turkmenistan has the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves. Together, they could fulfil India’s energy needs and provide vital connectivity as part of the International North-South Transport Corridor.

But there is also competition in the form of China’s growing influence in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative.

India should, therefore, present itself as a long-term trustworthy partner for the CARs by supporting regional stability, coordinating on security and actualising transparent, need-based investment projects.

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