India-Central Asia Relations
International relations > India and Global Regions > India & Central Asia
WHY IN NEWS?
- India recently agreed to provide a USD 200 million Line of Credit support for development projects in Kyrgyzstan. The announcement was made by External Affairs Minister during a four-day visit to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Armenia with an aim to further expand bilateral ties with the three Central Asian countries.
- Modern Central Asia consists of five nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
- All five nations became independent after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
- Central Asian region is considered to be the part of India’s “extended neighbourhood”.
- India has relations with Central Asia since the 3rd century B.C as the countries fell on route to the legendary Silk Route.
- The Silk Route not only served as the medium for transportation of goods, silk, textiles, spices etc but also facilitated dispersion of thoughts, ideas, religion and philosophy.
- Buddhism found inroads in several of Central Asian cities such as Merv, Khalachayan, Tirmiz and Bokhara etc in form of Stupas and Monasteries.
- Babur in 1526 came from the fertile valley of Fergana (food bowl of Central Asia) to the dusty town of Panipat and established the mighty rule of Mughals in India.
- Men of prominence such as Amir Khusrau, Dehlawi, Al-Biruni, Abdur Rahim Khan i Khanan etc having Central Asian routes came and made their name in India.
- During the Soviet period- culture, music, dance, movies and literature bound the Soviet Republics closely with India. Popularity of iconic stars like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, and others brought India into the homes and hearts of common people of this region.
- Bilateral relations however suffered considerable neglect in the 25 years after emergence of these countries as independent States in 1991.
- However India provided ?nancial aid to the region and established diplomatic relations.
WHY CENTRAL ASIA IMPORTANT TO INDIA:
- Similar interest in Afghan:
- Any instability in Afghanistan will have an impact on both Central Asia and India.
- Recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan have catalysed new geostrategic and geo-economic concerns for the region >> tackling of which requires closer ties with Central Asia.
- Geographical location of Central Asian countries:
- Central Asia serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, making it geopolitically axial for India
- For India to use Chabahar as a vital gateway to access Eurasian markets and optimally operationalize its use, requires a Central Asian state joining the project as a direct stakeholder.
- The region is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, natural gas, gold, silver, coal and uranium which can be best utilized by Indian energy requirement.
- For ex: Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have significant reserves of gas. Kyrgyzstan produces significant amounts of hydroelectric power.
- Economic interests:
- Agriculture: Central Asia has huge cultivable areas lying barren and without being put to any productive use, offering enormous opportunity for cultivation of pulses. Indian agribusiness companies can setup commercial agro-industrial complexes in Central Asia.
- Owing to higher economic growth, several areas have become attractive for construction business, providing huge scopes to Indian companies engaging in financial services, contractors, engineers
- Emerging geo-strategic challenges:
- The growing geostrategic and security concerns regarding the China ¬Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its violation of India’s sovereignty >> increases the need for India to have closer ties with central Asian countries.
- A means for maintaining regional stability:
- Central Asia is neighbouring ‘Golden Crescent’ of opium production (Iran-Pak-Afghan) and is also a victim of terrorism, illegal arms trade.
- Instability in Central Asia due to these factors will have a spillover effect on India.
- Central Asian countries are crucial in maintaining stability in Afghanistan.
- To support India in international fora:
- Central Asian countries are important for India’s bid to become a permanent member of UNSC.
WHY INDIA IMPORTANT TO CENTRAL ASIA?
- Ensure food security:
- Central Asia is facing many challenges in food security; Indian expertise in the field can be a game changer in the region.
- India’s experience in boosting food and milk production and modernizing agro-techniques under the green and white revolution can prove panacea for Central Asia.
- India can significantly bring in lots of foreign investment along with technical expertise in field of infrastructure, hospitality, medical etc.
- Most of the Central Asian leaders view India’s Chabahar port as an opportunity to diversify their export markets and control China’s ambitions.
- India's burgeoning middle class offers a wide market for central Asian countries exports
- Anti-China sentiments:
- China’s assertive approach led to rising social discontent on the ill treatment of their ethnic brethren in neighbouring Xinjiang.
- Central Asian countries have been keen to have India as a partner as they have sought to diversify their strategic ties.
- Security threat from Taliban
- Central Asian countries start to reimagine their engagement with India.
CHALLENGES IN RELATIONS:
- Lack of direct connectivity:
- Since Central Asia is not a part of India’s immediate neighbourhood and therefore it doesn’t share borders with India, the issue of connectivity between the two regions becomes of paramount importance.
- Due to the landlocked nature of Central Asian states, there is no direct sea route between India and the region and that too has a huge impact on regional connectivity.
- There are obstructions of physical connectivity due to Pakistan’s hostility and Afghan’s instability
- Volatile and unstable market:
- Politically, the Central Asian republics are highly fragile and also face threats like terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism etc making the region a volatile and unstable market.
- China factor:
- China has made deep inroads (Belt and Road Initiatives) in the Central Asian republics in terms of investments in and with the region.
- Also, Russia and China's convergence in Central Asia has changed the dynamics of India’s relations with Central Asia.
- Administrative issues:
- There are several administrative laggards in the region such as non-availability of hard currency, banking services, and prevailing corruption creating roadblocks in smooth bilateral relations.
- Security issues:
- Porous border and unbridled corruption along with the proximity with regions of soaring opium production (Golden Crescent) makes the region a powerhouse for drug and money trafficking.
- The increasing Islamic radicalization has become a major security concern for the governments of the region. Following the start of Syria’s civil war and the rise of the Islamic State (IS), estimates suggest that several thousands of Central Asians migrated to join the terrorist group
- Issues within the bloc:
- Due to border disputes, ethnic problems and conflict over control of natural resources, Central Asian countries have failed to recognise themselves as a collective regional bloc
- Limited defence co-operations:
- India’s military cooperation with the region has been mostly limited to military education and training and infrastructure assistance to military training institutions in the region
- Strategic cooperation:
- Strategic Partnership Agreements (SPA)
- India signed the Strategic Partnership Agreements (SPA) with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to stimulate defence cooperation and deepen trade relations
- ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy, 2012:
- It is aimed at >> furthering India’s political, economic, historical and cultural connections with the region
- India-Central Asia Dialogue:
- The first meeting of the dialogue was held in Uzbekistan in 2019.
- It is a platform for strengthening cooperation between India and the Central Asian countries in political, security, economic and commercial, development partnership, humanitarian and cultural spheres.
- Economic cooperation:
- Investment cooperation:
- India signed Bilateral Investment Treaty in 2019 with Kyrgyzstan
- Cooperation in Taxation:
- For ex: India-Kyrgyz Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA)
- India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC):
- ICABC was launched in February 2020, comprising the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Chamber of Commerce of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
- Logistics cooperation:
- International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC):
- It is a multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.
- Ashgabat Agreement:
- It is a multimodal transport agreement signed by India, Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for creating an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf
- Development assistance:
- Line of Credit:
- India provides USD 1 billion Line of Credit for priority developmental projects in fields such as connectivity, energy, IT, healthcare, education, agriculture etc.
- Grant assistance:
- India to provide grant assistance for implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP) for furthering socio-economic development in the countries of the region.
- Assistance in health sector:
- India provides humanitarian medical assistance to Central Asian countries in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
- India established Tele-Medicine Centers in Chui regions of Kyrgyzstan
- Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Program provides technical assistance and training in areas such as banking, remote sensing and information technology etc
- Cooperation in multilateral forums:
- India and Central Asian countries support each other in the UN and other multilateral forums including the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation)
- Chabahar port in Iran:
- India’s efforts to modernize the infrastructure of the Chabahar port, which could become an important link in trade and transport communications between the markets of Central and South Asia.
- Energy co-operations:
- India is negotiating on TAPI (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India) Pipeline - a natural gas pipeline
- India signed a civil nuclear deal with Kazakhstan.
- Defence co-operations:
- India's only overseas airbase lies in Farkhor, Tajikistan.
- Khanjar joint military exercise between Indian and Kyrgyzstan
- India signed memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and agreements related to defence and military technical cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan in 2015
- KAZIND joint army exercise with Kazakhstan
- Logistics development cooperation:
- Improving the logistics network of the region and promoting joint initiatives to create regional and international transport corridors
- Increase security co-operations
- Cooperate in combating the menace of terrorism by destroying terrorist safe-havens, networks, infrastructure and funding channels.
- Improve business cooperation:
- ICABC should promote business linkages, facilitate greater understanding of taxation, business regulations in India and the Central Asian countries and incentivize trade, business and investment, especially in the area of Small and Medium Enterprises.
- Reconstruction of Afghanistan:
- Strengthening cooperation for the development and economic reconstruction of Afghanistan
- Tapping tourism potential:
- Increasing tourism arrivals, creating tourism trails across the region, making visa process simpler and encouraging investment in tourism infrastructure
- Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
- There is a need to realize a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) which has a potential of spurring the trade
- Increase multilateral engagements:
- India should make efforts to step up multilateral engagement with Central Asian partners using the synergy of existing forums like the SCO, Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) etc
Q. “Central Asia provides India with the right platform to leverage its political, economic and cultural connections to play a leading role in Eurasia”. Discuss???????