- National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval recently hosted a meeting of his counterparts from five Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan — in New Delhi.
- This is the first time India is hosting a conclave of top security officials from Central Asian countries focussing on the evolving security situation in Afghanistan and ways to deal with the threat of terrorism.
About the meet
- Central Asia is seen as the northern boundary of the Islamic world.
- With the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan, the threat of radicalism and possible regrouping of the Islamic State poses a serious security challenge for the countries in the region.
- From the security perspective, the NSAs discussed the challenges of extremism, terrorism, and radicalisation in the region.
- NSA said financing is the “lifeblood” of terrorism, and countering it should be a priority.
What is the Central Asia Region?
- Central Asia is a region in Asia that stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north.
- It includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
India-Central Asia Ties
- India has decades-old wish to connect with the resource and fuel-rich Central Asian nations.
- Since the emergence of the Central Asian Republics as independent countries in the early 1990s, New Delhi has been trying to establish ties with them.
Trade and collaboration
- India’s trade with the five Central Asian Republics—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—was below $ 2 billion in 2018.
- The potential areas for collaboration include construction, sericulture and pharmaceuticals to IT and tourism.
- Much of this trade was routed through Iran, Russia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Efforts for connectivity
- Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) Gas Pipeline
- Development of Iran’s Chabahar Port
- Zaranj-Delaram Highway
- International North-South (Transit) Corridor (INSTC)
Central Asia’s importance for India
- Russian backyard: Central Asia has always been seen as Russia’s backyard — some 20-30% of the population is of Russian origin, and Russian is spoken widely.
- Fossil fuels: While Central Asia is seen as fuel-rich and, hence, important for an energy-starved India.
- Mineral richness: Central Asian states are also mineral-rich, and Kazakhstan, for one, has been a source of uranium for India’s nuclear power plants.
- Market for India: A country like India which is seen as a major economy has to have a presence in these markets. INSTC also offers a safe and cost-effective route to the EU (European Union) market.
- Convergence against Terrorism: India can forge a common position on terrorism and radicalization, which is a matter of concern to the region as much as it is to India.
Hurdles for India
- China’s opportunism: China’s trade with Central Asia was $50 billion-$60 billion in the same period. The obvious advantage in China’s favour is geographical proximity.
- Lack of mutual trust: Unfortunately, many connectivity options are not open to them today due to the lack of mutual trust.
- Pakistan factor: Tensions with Pakistan mean there is no viable land route towards Central Asia.
- Iran and the US sanctions: Efforts to look for a circuitous route via Iran (and Afghanistan) have stalled due to US sanctions on Iran.
Issues in the Iran-Afghanistan bypass route
Recent events acquire broader geopolitical relevance for India in this route:
- Taliban true-face: The takeover of Afghanistan by the Pakistan-backed Taliban has severely set back India’s plans in Central Asia.
- Iran’s bypassing of India: Iran’s overtures has been clearly visible after itself allocating Farzad-B Gas exploration contract to another company bypassing India.
India’s recent engagement
- Defence collaboration: In recent years, New Delhi has engaged with Central Asian Republics in the defence sphere through military exercises (say Ex Kazind).
- Engagement at UN: Political and economic engagement is also important, given the imperatives of working together at a body such as the United Nations (UN).
- Technological ties: India has set up universities there—Sharda and Amity are examples.
Scope for expansion
- Dairy Sector: There is scope for collaboration in the dairy sector.
- Pharma: Indian firms have been setting up pharmaceutical units in Russia that can serve these countries as well.
- Info Technology: IT and IT-enabled services are two other areas.
- Cultural connect: Bollywood movies are quite famous in these countries.
- India needs to develop into stronger bond of trade and commercial bonds which will be possible once the INSTC crystallizes.
- The road ahead in the short term is difficult as India doesn’t seem to have any real leverage to get the connectivity projects with Central Asia going.
- India has been negotiating with individual bilateral partners though.
- India does not want the post-Soviet space to be captured by the Chinese, and the NSAs engagement is a key mechanism in Delhi’s toolkit.
- In June 2002, Vajpayee had said in Almaty that the new “Silk Route Initiative” of India’s foreign policy seeks to build a new Silk Road of Friendship and Cooperation between India and Central Asia.
- Twenty years later, New Delhi remains on the road, and on the job.
Click and get your FREE Copy of CURRENT AFFAIRS Micro Notes
(Click) FREE 1-to-1 on-call Mentorship by IAS-IPS officers | Discuss doubts, strategy, sources, and more