The Central Asia region (CA) comprises the countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. India was among the first countries to recognize the five Central Asian states. After gaining independence in the 1990s, India formed diplomatic ties with them. As part of its 'extended and strategic neighbourhood,’ India now considers the Central Asian nations part of the policy.
The five Central Asian republics currently account for trade with India of just about $2 billion. It was less than China's approximately $ 50 billion that made them a gateway to its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative.
CENTRAL ASIA'S SIGNIFICANCE:
Strategic position: The position of these countries is geographically a bridge between the various regions of Asia and between Europe and Asia. New trade routes between India and Central Asia have been opened, bypassing Pakistan, with the Chabahar Agreement with Iran in effect.
The only foreign military airbase in India, controlled by the IAF and the Tajik Air Force, is in Farkhor (Tajikistan). With China, Afghanistan, Russia and Iran, the CARs share borders. Tajikistan is situated close to Kashmir (PoK), which is occupied by Pakistan.
Energy security: Central Asian countries are blessed with substantial hydrocarbon and mineral resources and are geographically similar to India. For instance,
- Kazakhstan is the largest producer of uranium and also has vast reserves of gas and oil.
- Uzbekistan, along with Kyrgyzstan, is an significant regional producer of gold.
- Apart from oil deposits, Tajikistan has huge hydropower capacity, and Turkmenistan has the world's fourth largest gas reserves.
- Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are both on the Caspian coastline, promising to open the door to other Caspian states that are rich in oil.
Security: The withdrawal from Afghanistan of US forces would have significant regional security consequences. CARs face a significant challenge from the 'Golden Crescent' illicit drug trade in opium cultivation (Iran-Pak-Afghan) and are also victims of the illicit weapons trade. Central Asian instability can spill over to PoK.
Furthermore, religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism continue to pose threats as well as regional stability to Central Asian societies.
Trade and investment potential: Central Asia's economic growth, especially in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, has sparked a construction boom and sectors such as IT, pharmaceuticals and tourism have been expanding. India has expertise in these fields, and deeper collaboration would give trade ties with these countries a new impetus. The area also has a strong demand for Indian pharmaceutical products.
CHALLENGES THAT INDIA FACES IN TERMS OF CAR:
- Land locked region: It is land locked, which has hindered the relationship between India and Central Asia. Weak connectivity has also led to India and Central Asia's below-par trade.
o Moreover, India does not share physical borders with any of the states of Central Asia. In promoting and expanding economic, commercial, electricity, tourist ties with them, there is a huge bottleneck. One choice was the old Silk Road, but Xinjiang's security situation, unresolved border disputes with China, and protracted negotiations forced India to pursue alternate routes to reach the CARs.
o The unpredictable situation in Afghanistan and the geo-strategic importance of Pakistan in the region have robbed India of the benefits of Central Asian ties.
- Chinese presence: The Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative involves Central Asia. In addition, the danger posed by the spill-over of Islamic radicalization to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province has led China to become well entrenched in Central Asian security affairs, thus indirectly affecting India 's interests.
- Radicalism and extremism: Central Asia is prone to factors such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Taliban, the IUM, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and so on.
- Other regions have their own domestic problems, such as " youth bulge " combined with restricted economic opportunities; extreme and worsening corruption; drug trafficking; autocratic states' succession management without strong government or party institutions, etc.
EFFORTS BY INDIA TO CONNECT WITH THE AREA:
Link Strategy for Central Asia: Introduced in 2012, it includes
- Close political relations by exchanging high-level visits and multilateral commitments
- Strategic and security cooperation through military preparation, frequent intelligence exchange, coordination of counter-terrorism and near Afghanistan consultations.
- Long-term Oil and Natural Resources Collaboration.
- Helping to provide the area with a viable banking infrastructure.
- Increase the involvement of Indian companies in the building and power sector in Vehicles.
- Improving INSTC connectivity, air services, people-to - people and cultural exchanges.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization: With full SCO membership, the top leaders of India & CARs can have more regular summit level contacts.
International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC): India is a founding member of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a project to link India and Iran to Central Asia by sea route and then via Iran to the Caspian Sea.
Creation of the port of Chabahar in Iran: Allowing access to landlocked Afghanistan and energy-rich Central Asia through the ports like Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla on the west coast of India.
Ashgabat Agreement: India has acceded to the Ashgabat Agreement, which facilitates the transport of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf through an international transport and transit corridor.
Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI): The planned natural gas pipeline runs through the Herat-Kandahar-Multan-Fazilika (Pak-India Border) from field in Galkynysh (Turkmenistan). It will not only provide a secure source of natural gas at reasonable prices, but it will also play a strategically important role in the region's peace and stability.
Eurasian Economic Union (EEU): India is negotiating a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan as part of the Eurasian Economic Union. The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Program is also an important tool for the training and human capital growth of young professionals from these countries.
- Both regions have struggled to make full use of the resources available in different sectors. The strengthening of relations between India and Central Asia is intended for the mutual benefit of all participating countries.
- Good ties with India will also provide these countries with an assured market for their resources, raw materials, oil and gas, uranium, minerals, hydropower, etc.
- The current regional and international political, strategic and economic scenario poses enormous challenges, but also the ability for India and Central Asia to boost their engagement qualitatively.
- Stronger partnerships between these countries and the world would lead to improved stability and development. The current India-Central Asia Dialogue should be qualitatively enhanced to maintain continuous contact with key stakeholders in the region.