Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

New prominence of the Central Asian region


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Centrality of Central Asian region for India


When Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts the five Central Asia leaders at the Republic Day Parade on January 26, it will send a strong signal — of the new prominence of the Central Asian region in India’s security calculations.

Why India needs effective continental policy

  • Factors intensifying geopolitical competition: China’s assertive rise, withdrawal of forces of the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from Afghanistan, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces, the changing dynamics of the historic stabilising role of Russia (most recently in Kazakhstan) and related multilateral mechanisms — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and the Eurasian Economic Union — have all set the stage for a sharpening of the geopolitical competition on the Eurasian landmass.
  • Progress in ties: India’s continental strategy, in which the Central Asian region is an indispensable link, has progressed intermittently over the past two decades — promoting connectivity, incipient defence and security cooperation, enhancing India’s soft power and boosting trade and investment.
  • It is laudable, but as is now apparent, it is insufficient to address the broader geopolitical challenges engulfing the region.
  • To meet this challenge, evolving an effective continental strategy for India will be a complex and long-term exercise.

Leveraging maritime power

  • India’s maritime vision and ambitions have grown dramatically during the past decade, symbolised by its National Maritime Strategy, the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and major initiatives relating to the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, in which maritime security figures prominently.
  •  It was also a response to the dramatic rise of China as a military power.
  • Importance: Maritime security is important to keeping sea lanes open for trade, commerce and freedom of navigation, resisting Chinese territorial aggrandisement in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and helping littoral states resist Chinese bullying tactics in interstate relations.
  • However, maritime security and associated dimensions of naval power are not sufficient instruments of statecraft as India seeks diplomatic and security constructs to strengthen deterrence against Chinese unilateral actions and the emergence of a unipolar Asia.
  • Bulwarks against Chinese maritime expansionist gains are relatively easier to build and its gains easier to reverse than the long-term strategic gains that China hopes to secure on continental Eurasia.
  • Centrality of Central Asia: Like Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) centrality is key to the Indo-Pacific, centrality of the Central Asian states should be key for Eurasia.

Challenges for India

1] Connectivity challenge

  • Connectivity means nothing when access is denied through persistent neighbouring state hostility contrary to the canons of international law.
  • India has been subject for over five decades to a land embargo by Pakistan that has few parallels in relations between two states that are technically not at war.
  • Lack of alternative route: Difficulties have arisen in operationalising an alternative route — the International North-South Transport Corridor on account of the U.S.’s hostile attitude towards Iran.
  • With the recent Afghan developments, India’s physical connectivity challenges with Eurasia have only become harder.
  • The marginalisation of India on the Eurasian continent in terms of connectivity must be reversed.

2] India must be aware of the limitations of the US

  • The ongoing U.S.-Russia confrontation relating to Ukraine, Russian opposition to future NATO expansion and the broader questions of European security including on the issue of new deployment of intermediate-range missiles, following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty will have profound consequences for Eurasian security.
  • The U.S. would be severely stretched if it wanted to simultaneously increase its force levels in Europe and the Indo-Pacific.
  • A major conflict — if it erupts in Central Europe, pitting Russia, Ukraine and some European states — will stall any hopes of a substantial U.S. military pivot to the Indo-Pacific. 
  • India should be cognisant of the limitations of geography, obvious gaps between strategic ambition and capacity but also the inherently different standpoints of how major maritime powers view critical questions of continental security.
  • India is unique as no other peer country has the same severity of challenges on both the continental and maritime dimensions.

Way forward for India

  • India would need to acquire strategic vision and deploy the necessary resources to pursue our continental interests without ignoring our interests in the maritime domain.
  • This will require a more assertive push for our continental rights — namely that of transit and access, working with our partners in Central Asia, with Iran and Russia, and a more proactive engagement with economic and security agendas ranging from the SCO, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).
  • Striking the right balance between continental and maritime security would be the best guarantor of our long-term security interests.


India will need to define its own parameters of continental and maritime security consistent with its own interests. In doing so, at a time of major geopolitical change, maintaining our capacity for independent thought and action will help our diplomacy and statecraft navigate the difficult landscape and the choppy waters that lie ahead.

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