India is keeping an eye on Central Asia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India's relations with Central Asian countries

Context

The government is inviting the leaders of the five Central Asian countries — Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — as guests for Republic Day on January 26.

Significance of Central Asian region for India

  • Return of Taliban in Afghanistan: The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has made Central Asia a region where great contestations for influence are unfolding.
  • There is a growing awareness that for leveraging influence in Kabul and harvesting that influence in the form of material gains, a firm footing in Central Asia is a prerequisite.
  • Economic dimension: Given the vast untapped mineral wealth of the region encompassing the five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan — estimated to be worth a few trillion dollars — there is a significant economic dimension to the unfolding saga.
  • Geopolitical angle: Washington hopes to create in Central Asia a vector of its Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China and Russia. At the same time, governments in Moscow and Beijing are circling the wagons.

Suggestions for India

  • India needs to work on an intricate network of relationships with the regional states while remaining mindful of the “big picture”.
  • Delhi’s non-aligned mindset needs to be turned into a strategic asset to navigate its long-term interests.
  • India’s membership of the BRICS and SCO will help.
  • Cooperation of  Russia and China: The deepening of the traditional Indo-Russian mutual understanding has injected dynamism into Delhi’s regional strategy on the whole.
  •  It is bound to have a calming effect on India’s tensions with China.
  • Delhi cannot have an effective Central Asia strategy without the cooperation of these two big powers.
  • Regional connectivity: India can use the card of regional connectivity to stimulate partnerships.
  • The time may have come to reopen the files on the TAPI and IPI gas pipeline projects. Both involve Pakistan.
  • Normalisation of India-Russia ties: Russia is well-placed to act as guarantor and help build both these pipelines, while China too will see advantages in the normalisation of India-Pakistan ties.

New geoeconomic partnership

  • Recently concluded third meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue in Delhi served a purpose to sensitise the Central Asian interlocutors that it attaches primacy to geoeconomics.
  • But India will have a challenge on its hands to flesh out the “4Cs” concept that External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar presented at the event — commerce, capacity enhancement, connectivity, and contact being the four pillars of a new geoeconomic partnership.
  • The key areas are transit and transport, logistics network, regional and international transport corridors, free trade agreements, manufacturing industry and job creation.
  • They ought to be front-loaded into India’s Central Asian strategy.
  • Certainly, the EAEU integration processes must be speeded up.

Consider the question “With changing geopolitical scenario, India’s stake in Central Asia has drastically increased. In the context of this, examine India’s outreach efforts toward the region and the challenges it faces in it.”

Conclusion

A host of new possibilities open up if India’s initiative on Central Asia runs on a parallel track with an improvement in relations with China.

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