Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

India’s Central Asian outreach

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : The Ashgabat Agreement,

Mains level : Paper 2- India's central Indian outreach

Context

The evolving situation in Afghanistan has thrown up renewed challenges for India’s regional and bilateral ties with Central Asia and the Caucasus, prompting India to recalibrate its rules of engagement with the region.

Background of India’s relations with Central Asian countries

  • After the breakup of the Soviet Union and the formation of the independent republics in Central Asia, India reset its ties with the strategically critical region.
  • India provided financial aid to the region and established diplomatic relations.
  • New Delhi signed the Strategic Partnership Agreements (SPA) with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to stimulate defence cooperation and deepen trade relations.
  • In 2012, New Delhi’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy aimed at furthering India’s political, economic, historical and cultural connections with the region.
  • However, India’s efforts were stonewalled by Pakistan’s lack of willingness to allow India passage through its territory.

Renewed engagement with Central Asia

  • The growing geostrategic and security concerns regarding the BRI’s China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its violation of India’s sovereignty forced New Delhi to fix its lethargic strategy.
  • Eventually, Central Asia became the link that placed Eurasia in New Delhi’s zone of interest.
  • India signed MoUs with Iran in 2015 to develop the Chabahar port in the Sistan-Baluchistan province that was in the doldrums from 2003.
  • External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was in the region earlier this month.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, Mr. Jaishankar extended a credit line of $200 million for the support of development projects and signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) on High-Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP).
  • Kazakhstan: His next stop was the Kazakhstan capital, Nur Sultan, where he attended the 6th Foreign Ministers’ Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
  • Armenia: Mr. Jaishankar has become the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit Armenia.
  •  During the visit, Mr. Jaishankar also supported efforts for a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk group.

Limits of SCO

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was created in response to the threats of terrorism that sprang from Afghanistan.
  • The Taliban re-establishing its supremacy over Afghanistan has also exposed the weaknesses of coalitions such as SCO.
  • The SCO has been used by most member countries for their own regional geostrategic and security interests, increasing the trust-deficit and divergence within the forum.

Way forward

  • Most of the Central Asian leaders view India’s Chabahar port as an opportunity to diversify their export markets and control China’s ambitions.
  • They have admitted New Delhi into the Ashgabat Agreement, allowing India access to connectivity networks to facilitate trade and commercial interactions with both Central Asia and Eurasia, and also access the natural resources of the region.
  • Rising anti-Chinese sentiments within the region and security threats from the Taliban allow New Delhi and Central Asia to reimagine their engagement.
  • Central Asian countries have been keen to have India as a partner as they have sought to diversify their strategic ties.

Conclusion

India cannot afford to lose any time in recalibrating its regional engagements.

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