india-and-the-central-asian-republics

CONTEXT

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India would host the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan virtually due to cancellation of the visit of the leaders of five central Asian nations after rising Covid-19 cases.

RECONNECTING CENTRAL ASIAN REPUBLICS 

  • Focus on neighbours:After independence India’s foreign policy focused on her neighbours and super powers.
  • The independence of Central Asian Republics coincided with India’s endeavour to cope with emerging world order by economic reforms and expansion of relationship with developed and developing economies in its extended neighbourhood which included five independent nations of Central Asia.
  • Common interests: It also synchronised with the aspirations of these Republics seeking association with countries for economic development and security. Problems like terrorism, illicit trade, radicalisation are common to both at the core of their national interest.
  • Connect Central Asia policy:India’s approach to reconnect with Central Asia was reflected in the Connect Central Asia policy announced in 2012 which includes economic and strategic cooperation, connectivity and consultation on regional problems.

COOPERATION BETWEEN INDIA AND CARs

  • Defence cooperation: The defence cooperation with the Central Asian republics has increased over a period of time in a significant manner.
    • India has been conducting an annual bilateral military exercise, Khanjar with Kyrgyzstan and trained its forces in mountain warfare.
    • An agreement has been signed with Kazakhstan for purchase of uranium, it being the largest producer of uranium in the world. With the growing demand for clean energy foreign investment in Kazakhstan’s  uranium sector is also increasing.
  • Connectivity: The operation of Chabahar port would strengthen the connectivity with Central Asia facilitating transportation of goods from central Asia through Iran.
    • India has acceded to the customs convention on international transport of goods and joined the Ashgabat agreement which would strengthen connectivity with Central Asia, Iran and Oman.

  • India has also been connecting with central Asia to multilateral cooperation agreements like the Eurasian economic union which includes Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
  • Engagement through various platforms: The membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has provided a potential and broader platform to engage on economic and security issues.
    • Along with bilateral cooperation India has also engaged with the region as a whole by conducting the India-Central Asia dialogue in 2019.
    • Growing visibility of India as a technological, defence and economic power supplemented by reaching out to several developing countries with humanitarian assistance is an important reason for strengthening connectivity.
  • Economic cooperation: A comprehensive economic cooperation agreement is underway which would facilitate better commercial transactions between India and the Central Asian republics.
    • India can set up medium-size steel rolling plants in Kazakhstan, expand its banking service and assist all countries in setting up higher education and research institutions, healthcare, provide its expertise on IT and telemedicine.
  • Cultural ties: People to people contact, tourism, regular exchange of scholars, cultural exchange and film production have helped to enhance relationships with people and society.

WHY IS THE CENTRAL ASIAN REGION IMPORTANT FOR INDIA?

  • According to the World Bank‘s economic update, the CARmight record growth by 3.6% in 2021.
    • Emerging and developing economies in the Europe and Central Asia region are expected to grow by 3.6% in 2021 due to increase in commodity price, relaxation of production cuts among major oil producers and increased foreign investment.
  • India’s policy to connect with these republics must focus on sharing digital technology to improve governance which would positively affect growth, economic and defence partnership.
  • CARs have used their relationship with China to balance Russia and with Europe to balance Russia and China.
    • The north South transportation corridor stretching from India to Europe through the republic would have a leverage to balance foreign countries competing to access their economic resources and use territory to bridge continents with a single span.
  • CARs have assumed a central place in regional and international diplomacy following China’s expansionist policy and after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • All five Republics have rich reserves of crude oil, hydrocarbons and minerals, to leverage these it is important for India to establish transportation and connectivity with the countries.

WAY FORWARD

  • Five major geopolitical interests for India:
    • Strengthening geopolitical engagement with Central Asia in a geo cultural framework.
    • Cooperating with the Central Asian countries to checkmate radicalism, extremism and narco trafficking emanating from Afghanistan.
    • Strategising India’s connectivity with Central Asia.
    • Check meeting China is a Gemini Seshan process in the region.
    • Enunciating a cooperative geopolitical approach in the central Asian geopolitical space.
  • India can gradually assume a predominant role in the geopolitical space in a region where China currently has an upper hand, in this regard even Russia needs India as a counterbalance to China in central Asia.
  • The Chabahar port can serve as a nodal point for India’s connectivity with the Central Asian space, it has been suggested by various studies to link Chabahar with the INSTC project.
  • Overall, in recent years, the contours of the India-Central Asia relationship have been witnessing metamorphosis in an unprecedented manner whereby growing convergence has the potential to bring about a paradigm shift in the geostrategic dynamics of the extended neighbourhood.

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