India’s Central Asia outreach

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Source: The post is based on the article “India’s Central Asia outreach” published in The Indian Express on 9th December 2022.

Syllabus: GS 2 – International Relations

Relevance: relations between India and Central Asia

News:  National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval hosted a meeting of his counterparts from five Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan). This indicates the growing relation between the two.

What is the history of relation between India and Central Asia?

India was connected with Central Asia through the Silk Route. India also shares old and deep cultural ties with the region.

Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955 travelled to Almaty, Tashkent, and Ashgabat. P V Narasimha Rao visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 1992, and Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1995. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 became the first Prime Minister to visit Tajikistan.

However, after the “Connect Central Asia policy” in 2012, the relation between India and Central Asia became better and it further improved with the visit of PM Modi to all five Central Asian countries in July 2015.

What is the strategic importance of Central Asia?

Central Asia is extremely rich in mineral and natural resourcesFor example, Kazakhstan has one of the biggest reserves of uranium, the Kyryz Republic is rich in hydro-power while Turkmenistan has one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas.

India’s engagement with the Central Asian countries is important because of – a) security cooperation after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, b) to counter China’s influence in the region, c) plans for connectivity with Europe including the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), d) to meet its energy needs (Turkmenistan is part of the proposed TAPI gas pipeline), and e) for old cultural links and trade potential.

What have been the recent developments between India and Central Asia?

The engagement between India and Central Asia has been on the backdrop of Taliban taking over Afghanistan. There has been a meeting on the Afghanistan-focussed Regional Security Dialogue in the last year.

India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has highlighted that India and Central Asia share similar concerns regarding the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Further, PM Modi also attended a virtual summit in January 2022 with the leaders of the Central Asian countries. He called for an integrated approach to regional cooperation and raised Afghanistan as a common concern.

The decision to hold a leaders’ summit every two years, a joint working group on Afghanistan, joint counter-terrorism exercises, and a group to operationalise the use of Chabahar port by all five countries have also been taken between India and Central Asian countries.

What are the challenges with the relations between India and Central Asia?

China – China has a direct border with the Central Asian countries and has a bilateral trade of $50 billion whereas India’s trade with the region is only $2 billion. China has also made major investments in these countries with its Belt and Road Initiative.

Lack of access to land transport – India lacks land transport access with Central Asia due to the blockage by Pakistan. To overcome the issue, India wants to integrate the INSTC with Chabahar port in Iran to access the resource-rich region.

Security – There are also security challenges such as extremism, terrorism, and radicalisation in the region. Central Asia shares a boundary with Afghanistan and the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan poses a serious security challenge for the countries in the region.

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