Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

[PREMIUM] Travelling Central Asia


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Key locations mentioned in the news card

Mains level: NA

Why in the news?

The Central Asia region is in the spotlight since it is facing challenges with political instability, ethnic tensions, and the threat of extremism, especially after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

About Central Asia

  • Central Asia, often referred to as the heart of Asia, is a vast and diverse region located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
  • It encompasses the area between the Caspian Sea in the west and China in the east, and from Russia in the north to Afghanistan and Iran in the south.
  • Central Asia is comprised of five main countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • This region has a rich history, serving as the historical crossroads of the Silk Road, which facilitated trade and cultural exchange between Europe and Asia for centuries.

Geographical Details:

  • Mountains:
  • Tian Shan: This mountain range stretches across Central Asia, forming a natural border between Kyrgyzstan and China. It is renowned for its majestic peaks, including Pobeda Peak, the highest point in Kyrgyzstan.
  • Pamir Mountains: Known as the “Roof of the World,” the Pamir Mountains are located in Tajikistan and extend into neighboring countries. They contain some of the world’s highest peaks, including Ismoil Somoni Peak (formerly known as Peak Communism) and Kongur Tagh.
  • Alay Mountains: Situated in southern Kyrgyzstan, the Alay Mountains are a subrange of the Tian Shan. They are characterized by rugged terrain and deep valleys.
  • Turkestan Range: This mountain range runs through southern Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, forming part of the border between the two countries.
  • Water Bodies:
  • Amu Darya: Also known as the Oxus River, the Amu Darya is one of the major rivers in Central Asia. It originates in the Pamir Mountains and flows through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan before emptying into the Aral Sea (though much of its water is diverted for irrigation).
  • Syr Darya: Another important river in Central Asia, the Syr Darya, originates in the Tian Shan Mountains. It flows through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, eventually joining the Amu Darya in the Aral Sea basin.
  • Aral Sea: Once the fourth-largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea has shrunk dramatically due to diversion of its tributary rivers for irrigation purposes. Its decline has had severe ecological and economic consequences for the region.
  • Issyk-Kul: Located in eastern Kyrgyzstan, Issyk-Kul is one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. It is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is a popular tourist destination.
  • Deserts:
  • Karakum Desert: Covering much of Turkmenistan, the Karakum Desert is characterized by vast expanses of sand dunes and sparse vegetation. It is home to the Darvaza Gas Crater, also known as the “Door to Hell.”
  • Kyzylkum Desert: Situated primarily in Uzbekistan, with parts extending into Kazakhstan, the Kyzylkum Desert is known for its red sands and arid climate. It is sparsely populated, with nomadic herders and wildlife such as gazelles and wild boars.
  • Mineral Resources:
  • Oil and Gas: The Caspian Sea region, in particular, is known for its oil and gas deposits, with countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan actively involved in their exploration and extraction. The discovery of large oil fields, such as the Tengiz Field in Kazakhstan and the Galkynysh Field in Turkmenistan, has attracted international investment and contributed to economic growth in the region.
  • Uranium: Kazakhstan is one of the world’s leading producers of uranium, with significant deposits located in the south of the country. Other Central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, also have uranium reserves, although they are less developed than those in Kazakhstan.
  • Precious Metals: Kyrgyzstan has a long history of gold mining, with several large-scale mines operating in the country. Uzbekistan is also a significant producer of gold, with the Muruntau Gold Mine being one of the largest in the world.
  • Copper, Aluminum, and Iron: These resources are primarily found in mountainous regions, such as the Tian Shan and Pamir Mountains. Countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have large deposits of copper ore, which are mined for domestic use and export. Additionally, Kazakhstan is a major producer of aluminum, with significant reserves of bauxite, the primary source of aluminum.
  • Climate
  • Central Asia experiences a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters.
  • However, the climate varies significantly depending on altitude and proximity to mountain ranges.
  • In general, the region is characterized by low precipitation and high evaporation rates, leading to arid and semi-arid conditions in many areas.
  • The mountains influence local climates, with cooler temperatures and higher precipitation levels in upland areas.

Major Disputed Areas:

Countries Involved Description
Bagys and Turkestanetz Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
  • Disputed settlements involved in border negotiations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
  • Turkestanetz ultimately attributed to Uzbekistan, while Kazakhstan retained control over significant water reservoirs.
  • Negotiations primarily occurred in the early 2000s.
  • The area is characterized by flat plains and arid landscapes, typical of Central Asian geography.
Arnasy Dam Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
  • Part of the land negotiations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, particularly significant during the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
  • The area surrounding the dam is marked by river valleys and semi-arid terrain, with the Arnasy River being a prominent feature.
Sokh and Shakhi-Mardan Enclaves Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan
  • Uzbek enclaves located in Kyrgyzstan, particularly contentious and mined by Uzbekistan as part of their border security measures.
  • Tensions in this area have been ongoing since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with occasional flare-ups in violence.
  • The region is characterized by mountainous terrain, including the Pamir-Alay and Turkestan mountain ranges.
Ferghana Valley Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
  • A fertile region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, known for its complex network of enclaves and high degree of inter-ethnic tensions.
  • Disputes often arise over control of strategic points such as border crossings and access to water resources, leading to occasional clashes and violence.
  • Tensions in the Ferghana Valley have persisted since the early 1990s.
  • The valley is surrounded by the Tian Shan and Alay mountain ranges, with the Syr Darya river flowing through it.
Vorukh Enclave Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan
  • A Tajik enclave within Kyrgyzstan, part of the complex border issues in the Ferghana Valley.
  • Tensions in this enclave date back to the Soviet era but have intensified since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
  • The enclave is nestled in the mountainous terrain of the Ferghana Valley, near the Zeravshan Range.
Chardara Reservoir and Lake Arnasai Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
  • Areas discussed in border negotiations between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
  • The negotiations occurred primarily in the late 1990s, with Kazakhstan securing a neck of land that provided a direct transport connection to the rest of the country.
  • The region is characterized by flat plains and agricultural land surrounding the reservoir and lake.
  • The Chardara Reservoir is fed by the Syr Darya river.
Osh City and Osh Volost Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
  • Areas that were contentious during the national delimitation in the Soviet period, particularly in the 1920s.
  • They were included in the Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast despite a high percentage of Uzbek residents who opposed this inclusion.
  • The area is characterized by mountainous terrain, including the Fergana Range.
Isfara Valley Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
  • A narrow, densely populated valley straddling the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, disputes in this region often stem from territorial claims, resource allocation, and control of strategic points such as border crossings and water sources.
  • Tensions have been ongoing since the early 1990s.
  • The valley is surrounded by mountain ranges, including the Pamir-Alay and Turkestan ranges, and is known for its agricultural productivity.
Batken Region Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan
  • Located in southern Kyrgyzstan, bordered by Tajikistan to the south and Uzbekistan to the west, disputes in this region are primarily related to territorial claims, control of strategic areas, and occasional clashes between border communities.
  • Tensions have been particularly notable since the mid-1990s.
  • The region is characterized by rugged mountain terrain, including the Pamir-Alay and Turkestan ranges.
Karakalpakstan Uzbekistan
  • An autonomous republic within Uzbekistan, disputes in this region are mainly related to water scarcity, ecological degradation, and the socio-economic impact of the shrinking Aral Sea.
  • Tensions over these issues have escalated since the mid-20th century.
  • Karakalpakstan is characterized by flat, arid plains and is situated adjacent to the shrinking Aral Sea.
Caspian Sea Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan
  • The world’s largest inland body of water bordered by Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, disputes often revolve around issues such as maritime boundaries, resource exploration rights, and environmental conservation.
  • Negotiations over the status of the Caspian Sea and its resources have been ongoing since the early 1990s.
  • The Caspian Sea is characterized by its vast expanse of water and surrounding coastal regions.

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

Central Asia’s Multi-Vectored Foreign Policy: Lessons for Post-Soviet States


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: C+C5 summit and other such developments

Mains level: Central Asian countries complex dynamics and multi vectored foreign policy

Foreign Policy

Central Idea

  • China recently hosted the inaugural C+C5 summit in Xi’an, which brought together the leaders of five Central Asian countries. The summit resulted in the signing of the ‘Xi’an Declaration’ and emphasized the Belt and Road cooperation as a new starting point for China-Central Asia relations. However, the central Asian countries have successfully implemented a multi-vectored foreign policy, balancing their engagements with various regional and international powers.

What is C+C5 summit?

  • The C+C5 stands for China plus Central Asia, indicating the participation of both China and the five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
  • The purpose of the C+C5 summit is to strengthen the relations and cooperation between China and these Central Asian countries.
  • The first C+C5 summit took place in Xi’an, China, and resulted in the signing of the ‘Xi’an Declaration,’ which outlines the shared vision and goals for China-Central Asia cooperation.

Foreign Policy

Facts for prelims

G7 Summit Hiroshima

  • The 49th annual G7 Summit took place in Hiroshima. Japan hosted the summit in its capacity as the President of the G7.
  • Prime Minister Kishida’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was evident through the choice of Hiroshima as the host city.
  • Prime Minister Modi attended the summit at the invitation of the Japanese Prime Minister.
  • The participating leaders issued a leaders’ communiqué on the second day of the summit. The communiqué will be adopted officially at the end of the summit on the 21st.
  • Current Members: US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan

Complex Regional Dynamics of Central Asian countries

  • Geopolitical Competition: China’s growing influence in Central Asia can be seen as a challenge to Russia’s historical dominance in the region. This geopolitical competition between the two powers shapes the dynamics of China-Central Asia relations.
  • Multi-vector Engagements: Central Asian countries pursue multi-vectored foreign policies, engaging with various regional and international powers. This approach allows them to maintain balanced relations and leverage different partnerships to their advantage.
  • Regional Cooperation Organizations: Central Asian countries are members of various regional cooperation organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). These organizations influence the dynamics of regional interactions and shape cooperation initiatives.
  • Economic Interests: China’s economic investments and infrastructure projects in Central Asia, driven by the Belt and Road initiative, have both positive and complex implications for the region. Balancing economic benefits with potential dependencies and competition is crucial for the Central Asian countries.
  • Historical and Cultural Connections: Central Asia shares historical and cultural ties with both China and Russia. These historical connections influence the perceptions, interactions, and priorities of the countries involved, impacting regional dynamics.
  • Balancing Global Engagements: Central Asian countries navigate their relationships with major global powers, including the European Union, the United States, and regional actors such as Turkey. Balancing these engagements is necessary to safeguard their interests and maintain stability in the region.
  • Afghanistan’s Impact: The situation in Afghanistan has implications for regional dynamics in Central Asia. Stability and security concerns in Afghanistan directly affect neighboring countries and influence their interactions with external powers.

Foreign Policy

Significance of C+C5: Strengthening China-Central Asia Relations

  • ‘Xi’an Declaration: The C+C5 summit held in Xi’an, China, served as a platform for leaders from China and the Central Asian countries to discuss and strengthen their bilateral relations. The summit resulted in the signing of the ‘Xi’an Declaration,’ which laid out a blueprint for future cooperation.
  • Belt and Road Cooperation: The summit focused on the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road initiative, emphasizing its role as a new starting point for China-Central Asia cooperation. The Belt and Road initiative aims to enhance connectivity and promote economic development through infrastructure projects.
  • Cultural Silk Road Program: The ‘Cultural Silk Road’ program was discussed during the summit, which aims to enhance cultural cooperation, preserve shared heritage, and promote cultural exchange between China and Central Asian countries.
  • China-Central Asia Summit Mechanism: The establishment of the China-Central Asia Summit mechanism during the summit paves the way for future biennial summits between the participating countries. This institutional framework ensures regular high-level engagement and facilitates ongoing cooperation.

Foreign Policy

Successes of a Multi-Vectored Foreign Policy

  • Diversified Economic Ties: Central Asian countries have successfully diversified their economic ties through a multi-vectored foreign policy. By engaging with multiple regional and international partners, they have expanded trade relations, attracted foreign investments, and accessed various markets.
  • Enhanced Diplomatic Influence: A multi-vectored foreign policy allows Central Asian countries to expand their diplomatic influence. By cultivating relationships with different actors, they can assert their interests, advocate for regional stability, and participate actively in international forums.
  • Balancing Regional Security: Central Asian countries have effectively balanced regional security concerns through multi-vectored foreign policies. By cooperating with different security organizations and partners, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Russia, they have successfully managed common security challenges, including terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking.
  • Preserving Sovereignty: Pursuing a multi-vectored foreign policy allows Central Asian countries to maintain their sovereignty and independence. By engaging with multiple actors, they prevent overreliance on any single power and safeguard their decision-making autonomy in international affairs.
  • Regional Cooperation Initiatives: Central Asian countries have actively participated in regional cooperation initiatives and organizations, such as the SCO and the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program.
  • Improved Resilience and Flexibility: Central Asian countries’ multi-vectored foreign policy has made them more resilient and adaptable in the face of changing geopolitical dynamics. By diversifying their partnerships, they can navigate shifting regional dynamics and respond effectively to evolving challenges and opportunities.
  • Peaceful Coexistence: The success of a multi-vectored foreign policy in Central Asia highlights the region’s ability to maintain peaceful coexistence among major regional and global powers. By pursuing balanced engagements, Central Asian countries contribute to stability, reduce tensions, and promote cooperation between different actors.


  • The C+C5 summit and the successful implementation of a multi-vectored foreign policy by Central Asian countries highlight the importance of balanced regional engagements. As Georgia and Moldova strive for EU/NATO membership, they should embrace a multi-vectored approach to ensure regional stability and security. Only through this pragmatic path can lasting peace be achieved, despite existing challenges and geopolitical complexities.

Also read:

G-7 Japan Summit: Consolidating Approaches for Global Challenges in the Indo-Pacific


Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

Private: Multilateralism will open pandora of opportunities for India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: SCO and QUAD

Mains level: multilateralism


India may give up its strategic balancing of China and West if the Ukraine war weakens Russia. Because for major defence supplies India is dependent on Russia.

What is the concept of multilateralism?

  • Process of organizing relations between groups of three or more states. Beyond that basic quantitative aspect, multilateralism is generally considered to comprise certain qualitative elements or principles that shape the character of the arrangement or institution.

What is SCO?

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a Eurasian political, economic and security organization.
  • Global share: In terms of geographic scope and population, it is the world’s largest regional organization, covering approximately 60% of the area of Eurasia, 40% of the world population, and more than 30% of global GDP.
  • Members: The SCO currently comprises eight Member States. They are- China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
  • Headquarters: Beijing, China.

What is QUAD?

  • The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), commonly known as the Quad.
  • It is a strategic security dialogue.
  • Members: Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.
  • Origin: The dialogue was initiated in 2007.

multilateralismWhich factors forced India to have more engagements with QUAD?

  • The Chinese threat has been largely responsible in shaping New Delhi’s Indo Pacific Policy.
  • The China’s Belt and Road initiative and the growing China’s presence in India’s neighborhood- as evident from China’s investment not only in Pakistan and Myanmar, but also in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Because of such activities India felt encircled.
  • The very launch of the QUAD initiative was the reaction to China’s assertiveness in the Indo Pacific region.
  • India agreed to upgrade the quad meeting at the ministerial level only after the gunmen attack of 2020.

How India is maintaining balance between the West and China-Russia Alliance?

  • Plurilateralism: India continued to believe in plurilateralism, a doctrine elucidated by external affairs Minister S Jaishankar in his book ‘The Indian Way’.
  • Member of both QUAD and SCO: Along with QUAD, India also took membership of SCO. It means India dealing with the USA and Japan on one side and Russia and China on the other.
  • Simultaneously dealing with many powers: India is engaging with competing powers like the USA, China, the EU or Russia at the same time.
  • Multipolar world: India stands in favor of a multipolar world where the plurality of power centers would allow her to play one pole against the other. In this context, New Delhi wants Russia to remain an important player.

What are India’s concerns regarding the West created world order?

  • The stand on Multilateralism goes together with India’s reservations (not being completely satisfied) against the West’s past hegemony and the international orders that were established after 1945.
  • MEA S Jaishankar emphasises that the West has imposed norms on the world that need to be dismantled. He says, “The key of western durability till now is the set of institutions and practices that it progressively but firmly established in the period of its dominance”.
  • The world order and the institutions are created and supported by the West by narratives that serve the West well, while diminishing its competitors.

What are the steps taken by India to deal with the West created world order and institutions ?

  • India’s engagement with the other regional organizations like BRICS, SCO, etc.
  • Doctrine of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: India’s foreign policy has been based on the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
  • UN Reforms: Efforts towards bringing reforms in the UNs.
  • Shift from Non-Alignment to Multi-Alignment: Multi-alignment is the very essence of India’s foreign policy and the economic policy of India today. Promotion of multilateralism by engaging with many poles simultaneously.
  • Various Multilateral initiatives: India has taken the lead in promoting various multilateral initiatives like International Solar Alliance, proposing CCIT for combating terrorism, Asia-Africa Growth corridor.
  • Collaborating with Like-minded Countries: India could work closely with the Alliance for Multilateralism (an initiative launched by Germany and France) to shape both the alliance itself and the reform agenda at large.

Why is Russia important for India?

  • Military supplies: India is heavily dependent on Russia for its military supplies with more than two-third of its weapons coming from Russia. For example: S-400 is the recent supply to India by Russia.
  • Balancing China: Russia is important for India to balance China. More isolation of Russia may push Russia closer to China.
  • To promote multilateralism: To maintain multilateral world order Russia is a major player or partner for India.


  • A multilateral world order with power decentralized between all the regions and all the economic strata is critical for any sustainable model of peace and prosperity to be gained. The UN and similar bodies must recognize the need of the hour and must reform or else they will perish in yet another set of protectionism, distrust, and possible large-scale military conflicts like Russia- Ukraine.

Mains question

Q. What are the concerns of India regarding the present world order created by the West? How can India promote multilateralism by playing a balancing role between the QUAD and the SCO?  What is the importance of Russia for India in the present global situation? Explain.


UPSC 2023 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)



Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

What is India’s current policy of multi alignment? Advantages and challenges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: non alignment movement

Mains level: foreign policy

Multi alignmentContext

  • Forthcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan is leading India to multi alignment.


  • India’s journey of foreign policy from being the founder of non-alignment to the multi-alignment. In his book The India Way, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar offers a critique of India’s traditional policy of “non-alignment”, where he distinguishes between the “optimistic  non- alignment ” of the past, which he feels has failed, that must give way to more realistic “multiple engagements of the future”.

Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO)

  • SCO is a Eurasian political, economic and security organization.
  • It is the world’s largest regional organization,
  • 40% of the world population
  • More than 30% of global GDP.
  • Members: 8-China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.

Multi alignmentSCO SUMIIT, 2022

  • Host- Uzbekistan,
  • Uzbekistan will host a full house: 15 leaders including eight member states from four Central Asian States, China, India, Pakistan and Russia,
  • The observer states: Belarus, Mongolia and Iran (which will become member this year) —
  • Afghanistan is not invited
  • Leaders of guest countries -Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan

What is non- alignment?

  • It’s a policy, a brainchild of Nehru. Non-alignment movement emerged after second world war.
  • Non-alignment means not having an alliance with any of superpower, either USSR or USA.  Decolonized nations of Asia and Africa was largely a part of this group.

Multi alignmentIndia’s policy of non-alignment

  • At bandung conference in 1955 non-alignment movement started with India as one of the founding member.
  • With policy of non-alignment India refused to gravitate towards USA or USSR.
  • India was the leader of non-alignment.

What is India’s current policy of multi- alignment? Advantages and challenges.

  • Since the start of his tenure from 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi have not attended any conference of non-alignment.
  • External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar in his book, The Indian way have criticized the non-alignment.
  • In the words of Former Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale India is no longer the non-align nation.

How it is a Multi alignment policy?

  • India to truly multi aligned or all aligned by being a part of every major grouping.
  • India is a part of BRICS and Prime Minister Modi is attending the SCO SUMMIT in Samarkand.
  • On parallel to rival groups India is also the part of Quad and Indo pacific economic framework.
  • India is buying the discounted Russian oil and reusing to buckle under pressure from west and USA.
  • S-400 purchase is happening and India have dodged the bullet of sanctions from USA.
  • India is choosing the bilateral Free trade agreement like with Australia and UAE and withdrew from groupings like RCEP and Most recently IPEF. This policy are is said to be in the economic interest of India.

Advantages of Multi alignment

  • India no longer wants to repeat the mistake of missing out of P5 Security council (“Permanent membership in the Security Council was granted to five states based on their importance in the aftermath of World War II).
  • If any group work against your interest it is better to be part of group rather than remain outside and do nothing
  • With retreating USA and its collapsing hegemony world is moving towards multiple polar world order.


  • Major disadvantage of non-alignment is you no longer have influence over adverse policy of friendly country.
  • For example. Russia sells S-400 to India but it also sold the same weapon to china.
  • USA and India are strategically getting closer day by day but USA recently approved the sale of $450 million F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.


  • Multi alignment will serve India its best national interest.
  • So far India has managed the rival parties at world stage to secure its foreign policy objectives but with Russian aggression and Chinese assertion and divided world will pose a significant challenge to India’s multi alignment policy.


Mains question

Q. What do you understand by non-alignment and multi-alignment? Analyze the shift In India’s foreign policy from non-alignment to multi-alignment.

UPSC 2023 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

India’s Ukraine dilemma


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Three Seas Initiative

Mains level: Paper 2- Rethinking India's position on Ukraine crisis


As diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine continue, the time has come for Delhi to devote greater attention to Central Europe, which is at the heart of the contestation between Russia and the West.

Recognising the role of Central Europe in shaping the geopolitics of Europe

  • Central Europe today has an identity of its own and the political agency to reshape European geopolitics.
  • It is important to remember that Central Europe is no longer just a piece of territory that Russia and the Western powers can divide into “spheres of influence”.
  • A grand bargain between Russia and the West will work only if it is acceptable to Central Europe.

Need for diplomatic balancing on Ukraine by India

  • As war clouds gather over Ukraine, there is much focus on India’s diplomatic balancing act, its unwillingness to publicly caution Russia against invading Ukraine, and above all its reluctance to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.
  • This is not the first time that Russia’s approach to Central Europe has put Delhi in a tight corner.
  • The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968, exposed an important tension in Indian diplomacy.
  • In Central Europe, India’s pragmatism in not offending Moscow (an important partner) runs against the utter unacceptability of Putin’s doctrine of “limited sovereignty”, a continuation of the Soviet era policy of saying that the socialist states must subordinate their sovereignty for the sake of the “collective interests of the socialist bloc”.

Factors shaping India’s stand

  • Tension with China: The prospective Russian invasion of Ukraine comes amidst India’s military tensions with China and Delhi’s continued dependence on Moscow’s military supplies.
  •  It also comes at a time when Delhi is trying to build an international coalition against China’s brazen attacks on the territorial sovereignty of its Asian neighbours.
  • For the moment, Delhi is in a safe corner by calling for diplomacy in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
  • But if Russia does invade Ukraine, the pressure on India to rethink its position will mount.
  • Any such review must eventually lead to an independent appreciation of the geopolitics of Central Europe.

Five factors that must shape India’s perspective on the geopolitics of Central Europe

  • 1] No taker for sphere of influence: Russia’s claim for a broad sphere of influence in the region has no takers in Central Europe.
  • 2]Need for political accommodation: While Russia has legitimate security interests in Central  Europe, they can only be realised through political accommodation.
  • Moscow cannot enforce a sphere of influence against the will of its prospective members.
  • 3] NATO as better option: few Central Europeans buy into the French vision for “European sovereignty” and “strategic autonomy”. 
  • They bet that NATO, led by the US, is a better option than a Europe that is independent of Washington.
  • They view with even greater distaste the prospects for Russo-German condominium over Central Europe.
  • 4] Resentment against imposition of political value:While they are eager to be part of the Western institutions, Central Europeans resent any attempt by the US and EU to impose political values that run against their traditional cultures.
  • 5] Sub regional institution: Central Europeans are eager to develop sub-regional institutions that can enhance their identity.
  • The Visegrad Four — Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia — is one of them.
  • The so-called “Three Seas Initiative” brings together 12 European states running in a vertical axis from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic and Black Sea in the south.


Delhi can’t forever view this critical region through the prism of Russia’s conflict with the West. It must come to terms with its growing strategic significance.

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

Domestic and geopolitical risks India faces in 2022


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: CAATSA

Mains level: Paper 2- Challenges facing India in 2022


Risks in 2022 could be both domestic and geopolitical, with many precepts that the world has been accustomed to being at risk. Democracy itself could face serious headwinds this year.

 Challenges to democracy

  • The world has recently seen the rise of authoritarian rulers in many countries.
  • What is worrisome is that democratic tenets which have been under attack in recent years appear set to face more onslaughts this year.
  • The United States, which was widely viewed as a major bulwark for democracy, appears to have developed certain pathological infirmities.

Geopolitical challenges and risks

[1] Disruption by China

  • The role of China is possibly the most disrupting one, given the challenge it poses to the existing international order.
  • Militarily, China is openly challenging U.S. supremacy in many areas, including ‘state-of-the-art weaponry’ such as hyper-sonic technology.
  • China is now threatening Taiwan, which could well become one of the flashpoints of conflict in 2022.
  • The dip in China’s economic profile in the past year and more could also lead to new tensions in the Asia-Pacific region in 2022.

[2] Russia-Ukraine conflict

  • The other major risk of a war in 2022, stems from the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine — the latter being backed by the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces.
  • During the past three decades, NATO has expanded its reach almost a 1,000 miles to the east in violation of an earlier tacit understanding.
  • Russia appears determined that Ukraine should be the ‘last frontier’ and, if need be, ensure this through military force.
  • The situation has grave possibilities and could result in a series of cyclical outcomes with considerable damage potential.

[3] Instability in the vast region

  • Unrest in Kazakhstan: The current unrest in Kazakhstan, which till recently was one of the more stable Central Asian nations, is perhaps symptomatic of what is in store.
  • Recent events in Kazakhstan demonstrates a sharper cleavage between the U.S.-led West and its principal opponents, Russia and China.
  • This is not a good sign for the world already wracked by a series of coups or internecine strife as in Ethiopia, Libya and certain regions of West Asia and North Africa.

[4] Return of Taliban and security implications for India

  • Shift in balance of power: Of particular significance to India is that the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has led to a material shift in the balance of power in India’s periphery.
  • Developments in Afghanistan have fuelled the ambitions of quite a few ‘anti-state militant groups’ across the region.
  • Even in Pakistan, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has become energised and is enlarging its sphere of action to other parts of Asia, notably Kazakhstan.
  • This will have an unsettling effect across large parts of Asia.
  • New evidence suggests that on India’s eastern flank, viz. Indonesia, a resurgence of radical Islamist activities is taking place.
  • The Jemaah Islamiyah has reportedly become more active in Indonesia.

[5] India’s border issue with China

  • The most serious issue that India confronts today is how to deal with a China that has become more confrontational.
  • India’s membership of the Quad still rankles as far as China’s psyche is concerned, and during 2022, may well result in China embarking on new adventurist actions at many more points on the Sino-Indian border compelling India to react.
  • Additionally, India will need to determine how best to respond to China’s provocations.
  • Strengthen military posture: India would need to strengthen its military posture, both as a means to deter China and also to convince India’s neighbours that it can stand up to China.

Challenges ahead for India

  • Challenge in Central Asia: Diplomatically, in 2022, India may find itself vulnerable in dealing with the turmoils which have occurred in two areas of strategic interest to it, viz. Central Asia and West Asia.
  • Challenge in West Asia: In West Asia, the challenge for India is how to manage its membership of the Second Quad (India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.) with the conflicting interests of different players in the region.
  • Limits to balancing: There is a limit to the kind of balancing act that India can perform, whether it be with regard to buying S-400 missile systems from Russia, risking potential sanctions from Washington under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) or manoeuvering between the Arab States, Israel, Iran and the U.S. in West Asia.


Facing a host of unprecedented challenges, India’s leaders and diplomats must not only take stock of the dangers that exist but also be ready on how to manage the risks that are well evident.

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

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.

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

India’s Central Asian outreach


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: The Ashgabat Agreement,

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


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.


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

UPSC 2022 countdown has begun! Get your personal guidance plan now! (Click here)

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now



Five Central Asian States

Five Central Asian states have significant disagreements among themselves, and development trajectories have increasingly diverged since the end of the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan is a stable, relatively open middle-income country, whereas Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are impoverished, chaotic, and poised on the verge of state failure.

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan—with significant human and industrial capital (Uzbekistan) and hydrocarbon resources (Turkmenistan) but leadership wary of engaging with the outside world— are somewhere in between.

Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are also affected by their proximity to Afghanistan and the potential for Afghanistan’s instability to spread across the border. Kazakhstan, which does not share a border with Afghanistan, sees it as less of a threat.

Many participants noted that the Central Asian governments are particularly concerned about the consequences of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some worried that Afghanistan’s ills—including radicalism, violence, and drugs—could take hold within Central Asia itself if more is not done to stabilize the country before the United States and its allies withdraw, whereas others questioned how relevant the Afghan example is for the largely secular, non-Pashtun Central Asian states.

Recent bouts of instability in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have focused minds in the region on the dangers of negative spillover from Afghanistan. Conversely, a secure Afghanistan would represent a potential resource for Central Asia. It sits along the principal transit route between Central and South Asia and occupies part of the shortest route to the sea for landlocked Central

Asian states. For this reason Central Asian governments are playing an active role in promoting economic development in Afghanistan—a role that reinforces the U.S. coalition effort.


  • Relations between India and Central Asia are ancient and civilisational.
  • India has been connected closely with Central Asia through the Silk Route from circa 3rd century BC till 15th century AD when the sea route from Europe to India was discovered. This made the land journey unviable because it was more risky, longer in duration, more expensive and volumes of cargo that could be carried by sea-faring vessels were much larger than by caravans over the land route.
  • The Silk Route connected India with Central Asia not only for transportation of goods and wares like silk, textiles, spices etc but was an effective channel of exchange of thoughts, ideas, religion and philosophy. Budhism travelled over this route from India to Central Asia and from there to West China in contemporary Xinjiang region.
  • In medieval times, Babar came from Fergana Valley after losing his kingdom to try his fortune in foreign lands.
  • During the Soviet period culture, music, dance, movies and literature bound the Soviet Republics closely with India. Political contacts grew and expanded with frequent exchange of visits. Visit by Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India accompanied by his daughter Indira Gandhi to Almaty, Tashkent and Ashgabat in 1955 brought the region closer to India. Popularity of iconic Bollywood stars like Raj Kapoor, Nargis, Mithun Chakraborty 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.

Salient features:

  • None of the five Central Asian States had to fight for its independence from the Soviet Union. Freedom was granted to these countries as a gift. They were not confident about their financial and economic viability, and survival as independent states. Hence they were the last to declare their independence, eg.  Kazakhstan on December 16, 1991, Uzbekistan on September 1, 1991 while Russia had announced its freedom in June, 1990.
  • All these countries are landlocked. Some of them are doubly landlocked. It is generally assumed that unless countries have access to warm-water seas, they will not be able to develop fruitful economic relations with the outside world. These countries hence felt that it will be difficult for them to prosper as they do not have access to seas.
  • Most Central Asian States particularly Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have converted the perceived disadvantage of being landlocked into an asset by constructing a web and network of roads, railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines  cris-crossing from East to West and North to South to connect industrial and production hubs with consumer markets. Last few years have seen highways and railroads traversing from the East in China through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Europe, Russia, Iran and the Middle East. Similarly oil from Caspian Sea offshore facilities in Kazakhstan and gas from Turkmenistan is being shipped by pipelines to the western region of China.

Rich in Resources:

  • All Central Asian States are rich and well endowed potentially with mineral and hydroelectric resources.
  • Kazakhstan has the world’s second largest reserves and is the world’s largest producer — 23,000 tons of uranium in 2014.
  • It has almost all minerals on Mendeleev’s table including iron-ore, coal, oil, gas, gold, lead, zinc, molybdenum etc. in commercially viable quantities.
  • Uzbekistan has large reserves of gas, uranium and gold.
  • Turkmenistan is endowed with world’s fourth largest reserves of natural gas.
  • Tajikistan is blessed with huge hydroelectric potential. Kyrgyzstan is rich in gold and hydroelectric power.
  • Central Asian States have used the 25 years since independence in nation building and consolidation of their statehood.

Socio-economic development

  • Track record of these countries on socio-economic development is mixed.
  • Kazakhstan with its vast mineral resources has done better than others.
  • Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan lag behind. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan remain closed and controlled societies.
  • Uzbekistan is a potential leader in Central Asia, but has difficult relations with its neighbours, namely Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on water issues, and Kazakhstan to become the pre-eminent power in the region. Religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism pose challenges to these societies and to regional stability. Issues like water security, borders, environmental degradation and migration have become acute.
  • Central Asian republics face serious threat from illegal drug trade emanating from Afghanistan.
  • Traditionally, Central Asia has been an arena of ‘’great game’’.
  • The modern version is being played out even today. Russia, China, US, Turkey, Iran, Europe, EU, Japan, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan have substantial security and economic stakes in the region.

Importance of central Asia

Energy security

  • The countries of Central Asia are endowed with significant hydrocarbon and mineral resources and are close to India geographically.
  • Kazakhstan is the largest producer of uranium and has huge gas and oil reserves as well.
  • Uzbekistan is also rich is gas, and is an important regional producer of gold along with Kyrgyzstan.
  • Tajikistan has vast hydropower potential besides oil, deposits, and Turkmenistan has the fourth largest gas reserves of the world.

Strategic Location

  • Geographically, the strategic location of these countries makes them a bridge between different regions of Asia and between Europe and Asia.

Trade and Investment potential

  1. The economic development of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, has sparked a construction boom and development of sectors like IT, pharmaceuticals and tourism.
  2. India has expertise in these sectors and deeper cooperation will give a fresh impetus to trade relations with these countries.
  3. There is a great demand for Indian pharmaceutical products in the region.


  • To tackle the challenge of terrorism, narcotics trafficking and arms smuggling.

To counter terrorism and radicalization:

  • Keeping a check on the rise of radical Islamist groups that may pose a threat to India’s security.
  • Religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism continue to pose challenges to Central Asian societies as well as regional stability.
  • The Fergana Valley remains a hot spot of fundamentalism. Central Asian republics face serious threat from illegal drug trade emanating from Afghanistan. Instability in Central Asia can spill over into India .

Stabilization of Afghanistan:

  • Central Asian nations and India can play effectively role in bringing normalcy in Afghanistan.
  • Two of these countries — Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan — are in the Caspian littoral, thereby promising to open the door to other energy-rich Caspian states.
  • Regional cooperation: Four central Asian Nations are part of SCO.


  • Land locked region: Central Asian region is land locked. It has hampered India’s relation with central Asia.
  • Poor connectivity has also contributed to the below-par trade between India and Central Asia.
  • The key constraint India faces is the lack of direct access to Central Asia.
  • The unstable situation in Afghanistan and a highly problematic India-Pakistan relation have deprived India from the benefit of relations with Central Asia.
  • Chinese presence: central Asia is part of Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative.

Relations with India

  • India has not been able to take advantage of its civilisational and historical ties with the region as adequate attention was not accorded to the relations.
  • Another significant reason for the listless state of bilateral ties is that India does not share physical borders with any of the Central Asian states. This is a huge bottleneck in promoting and expanding economic, commercial, energy, tourist links etc. with them.
  • No direct route from India to these countries is available as Pakistan does not permit goods, cargo or people to move through its territory to Afghanistan, let alone to Central Asia beyond it.
  • Trade hence has been conducted with Central Asia through China. This is both time consuming and expensive.
  • Alternatively cargo has to be sent to by sea to Northern Europe from where it is transported by rail and road through Russia and other adjacent countries. India has registered significant progress in concluding a trilateral agreement for renovation of Chabahar port, development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and becoming a member of Ashgabat Agreement.
  • India’s membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as also of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) should go a considerable way in bridging this gap.
  • India uses the instrumentality of soft power and its ready acceptability in Central Asia to strengthen bilateral ties.
  • There is immense interest in Indian classical dance, music, Bollywood films, yoga, literature etc. in these countries.
  • India regularly and frequently arranges cultural events in these countries and also provides scholarships for study in India of these disciplines by young men and women of these countries.
  • The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme is an effective instrument under which young professionals of these countries undergo training and human capacity development in areas ranging from banking, remote sensing and English speaking to agriculture, rural development and information technology in the premier institutions in India. This initiative exposes the youth of these countries to India’s economic progress as well as its civilisation and heritage. ITEC has significantly contributed to economic and social growth and development of beneficiary countries.
  • More energy and vigour needs to be imparted to the area of commercial and economic ties. One important reason for the uninspiring level of bilateral commercial ties is lack of authentic and up-to-date information on potential and possibilities available in this area.
  • Chambers of Commerce as well as official government agencies need to be more active to bridge the ‘’information deficit’’ between India and the region.
  • Private sector needs to look at these countries s with greater seriousness and focus. Our companies need to participate in trade fairs and organise single country trade fairs in major commercial and industrial centres of these countries.
  • The Indian Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) needs to pay more attention to this region. Several private agencies also organize sale-cum-exhibition shows with 100-200 private companies in different cities. These shows provide greater exposure for Indian companies and products amongst business and consumers of these countries.
  • Significant opportunities exist for Indian companies to undertake projects for building infrastructure related to rail network, roads, highways, power stations, transmission lines, renewable energy, nuclear power etc in these countries.
  • Many projects are funded by international agencies and multilateral banks like ADB, EBRD, IBRD, IDB and others. It is expected that AIIB and NDB will also enter this market shortly. Indian companies with  wide experience can make a significant contribution to development of this region.
  • Several areas present excellent opportunities for enhancing bilateral trade and economic cooperation. In addition to oil and gas, information technology, pharmaceuticals and textiles, areas like higher education, space, civil nuclear energy, small and medium business, power generation, food processing and agriculture  present rich potential for deeper engagement

Central Asia and China

  • China enjoys a bilateral trade of USD 50 billion with Central Asia in comparison to India’s trade of USD 2 billion.
  • Moreover China imports about 20 million tons of oil from Kazakhstan and 40 bcm of gas from Turkmenistan in addition to large quantities of uranium and other minerals from these countries. On the contrary, India has imported just around 3000 tons of uranium from Kazakhstan and its first acquisition of Satpayev oil block off the Caspian sea shore in Kazakhstan commenced drilling operations.
  • China shares a border of more than 1500 kms with Kazakhstan, more than 850 kms with Kyrgyzstan and over 400 kms with Tajikistan. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also easily accessible through the land route. This provides it with a huge advantage over India.
  • China conducts its relations both bilaterally and through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
  • China’s primary thrust has been to make use of Central Asia’s vast mineral resources for its economic development — to supply the much needed consumer goods to Central Asia and to protect itself against the threat of “separatism, extremism and terrorism” from its Uyghur minority from Central Asian territories.
  • China has sought to build connectivity through networks of rail, road, oil and gas pipelines with and through the Central Asian countries.

Recent developments           

Several significant developments have taken place in last few years.

The first:

  • most momentous is the bold and decisive move by PM Modi to visit all five Central Asian States in July, 2015, combining his travel with his tour to Ufa, Russia for the BRICS (and SCO) Summit.
  • His visit to these countries sent out a loud and clear message to the region and the world that India is determined to make up for lost time and  expand its ties with these countries.

The second

  • significant development  is decision at SCO Summit in Russia in July, 2015 to induct India (and Pakistan) as new members of the organisation.
  • India is expected to assume full membership of the organization at the forthcoming summit on June 23 and 24, 2016 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This will provide an opportunity to India’s Prime Minister to meet and interact with all his counterparts from Central Asia every year.
  • An important reason for India’s failure to fully realize potential of our partnership with this region is the infrequent contacts between leaders of these countries.
  • Annual SCO summits will provide a forum to leaders of these countries to meet and discuss issues of bilateral and regional interest.
  • An added advantage is that Russian leadership will also be present at these conclaves. Because of the historical association of Central Asia and India with Soviet Union/Russia, several possibilities exist to promote cooperation in security, defence, energy and economy with Central Asian region in conjunction with Russia.

The third

  • significant development, although confined to relations with only one Central Asian State and not the region as a whole, is commencement of construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline on Dec 13, 2015.
  • The 1800 km long pipeline is expected  to be completed by end 2019. India is expected to receive about 13 bcm per annum  once the pipeline is completed.

India’s Full membership of SCO

As of July 2015, India has been accorded full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) along with Pakistan at its Ufa summit held in Russia.

  • SCO is a Eurasian economic, political and military organisation
  • HQ: Beijing, China
  • Established: 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders 6 countries viz. China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan
  • Since 2005, India was having an Observer status of SCO and had applied for full membership in 2014. India would be finally ratified in the member list by 2016

Connecting the dots with SCO

Per Chinese and Russian scholars, creation of SCO helped address the security problems and enhance economic cooperation in the Central Asia region. The Western discourse, however, has tended to see the SCO as a mechanism to counter-balance the influence of the United States in the region. Both are correct!

SCO is considered and tagged as anti-west. Behind the veils, it is alleged that SCO is going to be a NATO like military alliance in East. You might expect a question on that line and be asked to put India’s context in place.

However, China exaggeratedly says that the SCO was founded on a principle of non-alignment and functions as an effective stabilizer for regional security and peace. China has always maintained that the focus of SCO is on combating the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism – and other unconventional security menaces.

Advantage India?

There are multiple benefits for India as well as the SCO which is concerned with security and stability in the Eurasian space.

  1. India’s presence will help moderate the anti-West bias of the grouping, which will calm Washington’s nerves to a considerable extent
  2. Greater engagement with India will also aid the organisation’s capability to improve regional economic prosperity and security
  3. Membership will give India an opportunity to play an active role in China’s Silk Road initiative which plans to link a new set of routes from the north and east of the country to an old network of routes in the greater Eurasian region.
  4. Indian interest in International North-South Transport Corridor to connect Mumbai with Abbas port in Iran. This route is shorter than the existing Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea
  5. SCO may also serve as guarantor for projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipelines, which are held by India due to security concerns.

India’s entry is also likely to tip the balance of power in favor of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Challenges ahead for SCO?

It is naive to expect that India’s differences with China regarding the border or its ties with Pakistan will magically disappear. The inclusion of Pakistan in the SCO will also make it difficult for India to enjoy a level playing field.

Pakistan, which is embroiled in a domestic political crisis, may not be so willing to challenge hardliners in its country, and go along with India in promoting peace and stability in the Eurasian space. We have seen how Indo-Pak presence in SAARC makes it difficult to ink key pacts.

The clash of interests in a post – 2014 Afghanistan makes prospects of cooperation difficult. There is also a possibility that China may collude with Pakistan to suffocate India’s voice in the decision making process.

Other than that, India will have to balance the geopolitical ambitions of China and Russia to evolve a mutually beneficial framework.


PM visited the 5 Central Asian States — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

India and Kyrgyzstan

  • India and Kyrgyzstan signed four agreements including one to boost defence cooperation and hold annual joint military exercises.
  • A joint exercise between India and Kyrgyzstan Khanjar 2015 has just been completed.

List of agreement signed during the Prime minister visit

1. Agreement on Defence Cooperation

2. Memorandum of Mutual Understanding and Cooperation in the field of Elections

3. MoU between Ministry of Economy of Kyrgyzstan and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) on cooperation in the sphere of Standards.

4. Agreement on Cooperation in Culture

India and Uzbekistan

On his first visit to Central Asian countries, Prime Minister held talks with Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov on key bilateral and regional issues including the situation in Afghanistan as the two countries inked three pacts to boost cooperation between their foreign offices and in the field of culture and tourism.

The two leaders also discussed ways to implement the contract for supply of uranium from mineral-rich

Uzbekistan signed in 2014 .The pact was signed for supply of 2,000 metric tonnes of the yellow cake.

List of agreement signed during the Prime minister visit:

  •  Intergovernmental Agreement on cooperation in the field of tourism. Protocol on Cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Uzbekistan, and Ministry of External Affairs, Republic of India.
  • Intergovernmental Programme of Cultural Cooperation for 2015-17

India and Kazakhstan

  • India and Kazakhstan focused on boosting trade, energy, defence and security cooperation as Prime Minister held talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Astana.
  • Kazakhstan, a leading uranium producer globally, will supply 5,000 tonnes of uranium to India during 2015-19.
  • Both leaders welcomed the establishment of a Joint Study Group between India and the Eurasian Economic Union on the feasibility of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which would boost trade.

List of agreement signed during the Prime minister visit:

  • Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons
  • Agreement on Defence and Military – Technical Cooperation between Republic of India and Republic of Kazakhstan.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports of Republic of India and
  • Ministry of Culture and Sports of Republic of Kazakhstan on Cooperation on Physical Cultural and Sports.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between Ministry of Railways of Republic of India and the Kazakhstan Temir Zholy of Republic of Kazakhstan on Technical Cooperation in the field of Railways
  • Long term contract between Department of Atomic Energy of Republic of India and JSC National atomic company “KazAtomProm’ for sale and purchase of natural uranium concentrates.

India and Turkmenistan

  • Prime Minister pitched for early implementation of the $ 10 billion TAPI gas pipeline project during his talks with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov as both countries inked seven pacts to ramp up engagement in key areas, including defence.

List of agreement signed during the Prime minister visit:

  • Memorandum of Understanding on supply of Chemical Products between the Indian Public Sector
  • Undertaking ‘Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers Limited’ and the Turkmen State concern ‘Turkmenhimiya.’
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the Foreign Service Institute of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Republic of India and the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan.
  • Agreement between the Ministry of Youth Affairs and sports of the Republic Of India and the State
  • Committee for sport of Turkmenistan on Cooperation in the field Of sports.
  • Programme of Cooperation in Science and Technology between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of Turkmenistan for the Period of 2015-2017.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of Turkmenistan on Cooperation in Yoga and Traditional Medicine.
  • Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of Turkmenistan on Cooperation in the field of Tourism.
  • Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the Republic of
  • Turkmenistan on Cooperation in the field of Defence.

India and Tajikistan

India and Tajikistan pledged to intensify cooperation against terrorism, with Prime Minister noting that the two countries are located in the “proximity of the main source” of the menace, an apparent reference to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

List of agreement signed during the Prime minister visit:

  • Programme of Cooperation (POC) between Ministries of Culture of India and Tajikistan in the field of Culture for the years 2016-18.
  • Exchange of Note Verbale (NV) on setting up of Computer Labs in 37 Schools in Tajikistan.

 Connect Central Asia Policy

India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ Policy is a broad-based approach, including political, security, economic and cultural connections. on 12 June 2012 India’s Minister Of State for External Affairs Shri E. Ahamed gave a Keynote address at First India-Central Asia Dialogue.

He outlined some of the elements of India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy as follows:

1. India will continue to build on our strong political relations through the exchange of high level visits. Its leaders will continue to interact closely both in bilateral and multilateral fora.

2. India will strengthen its strategic and security cooperation. India already has strategic partnerships in place with some Central Asian countries. In focus will be military training, joint research, counter-terrorism coordination and close consultations on Afghanistan.

3. India will step up multilateral engagement with Central Asian partners using the synergy of joint efforts through existing fora like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and the Custom Union. India has already proposed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement to integrate its markets with the unifying Eurasian space.

4. India looks to Central Asia as a long term partner in energy, and natural resources. Central Asia possesses large cultivable tracts of land and it sees potential for India to cooperate in production of profitable crops with value addition.

5. The medical field is another area that offers huge potential for cooperation. India is ready to extend cooperation by setting up civil hospitals/clinics in Central Asia.

6. India’s higher education system delivers at a fraction of the fees charged by Western universities. Keeping this in mind, India would like to assist in the setting up of a Central Asian University in Bishkek that could come up as a centre of excellence to impart world class education in areas like Information Technology, management, philosophy and languages.

7. India is working on setting up a Central Asian e-network with its hub in India, to deliver, tele-education and tele-medicine connectivity, linking all the five Central Asian States.

8. Indian companies can showcase its capability in the construction sector and build world class structures at competitive rates. Central Asian countries, especially Kazakhstan, have almost limitless reserves of iron ore and coal, as well as abundant cheap electricity. India can help set up several medium size steel rolling mills, producing its requirement of specific products.

9. As for land connectivity, India has reactivated the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). India & Central Asian nations need to join our efforts to discuss ways to bridge the missing links in the Corridor at the earliest and also work on other connecting spurs along the route.

10. Absence of a viable banking infrastructure in the region is a major barrier to trade and investment. Indian banks can expand their presence if they see a favourable policy environment.

11. India will jointly work to improve air connectivity between our countries. India is one of the biggest markets for outbound travelers estimated at USD 21 billion in 2011. Many countries have opened tourist offices in India to woo Indian tourists. Central Asian countries could emerge as attractive holiday destinations for tourists and even for the Indian film industry which likes to depict exotic foreign locales in its films.

12. Connections between our peoples are the most vital linkages to sustain our deep engagement. I would particularly like to emphasize exchanges between youth and the future leaders of India and Central Asia. India already has a robust exchange of students. India will encourage regular exchanges of scholars, academics, civil society and youth delegations to gain deeper insights into each other’s cultures.


  • Strengthening of relations between India and Central Asia is to mutual benefit of all countries involved. It is not directed at countering China’s presence in the region.
  • India is interested in expanding its ties with the region as it will promote security, stability, economic growth and development of all countries.
  • Good relations with India will provide an assured market to these countries for their energy, raw materials, oil and gas, uranium, minerals, hydro electric power etc. India is the fastest growing economy in the world today and can be a stable, assured, expanding market for these countries.
  • The current political, strategic and economic scenario, both regionally and internationally, presents immense challenges but also potential for India and Central Asia to qualitatively enhance their engagement.
  • Both India and Central Asia are factors of peace, stability, growth and development, in the region and the world.
  • Stronger relations between them will contribute to increased security and prosperity of these countries and the world.


In terms of a buffer, the purpose of Central Asia is in Indian eyes three-fold:

  • To prevent the creation of an ‘Islamic belt’ allied to Pakistan,
  • To forestall encirclement by either China or the USA, and finally.
  • To insulate India from the narco-terrorism that now plagues its northern borders.
  • This security dimension has driven Indian investment in Afghanistan and military cooperation with Tajikistan.

As a bridge

  • Central Asia provides a ‘near abroad’ market for India’s emerging export industries.
  • It also promises overland routes to the rich resources of Russia and the Middle East.
  • Perhaps most importantly for India’s short-term growth, the region possesses significant energy supplies at relatively short distance from Indian markets.
  • This is likely to become a defining factor as competition for resources with China intensifies. Significantly for India’s great power ambitions, some Central Asian governments support New Delhi for its candidacy for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and help foster a direct link with Russia, on whom India increasingly relies as counterweight to Chinese and US encroachments. This relationship is also important in terms of India’s historical relationship with the Soviet Union in the period of non-alignment.


The Central Asian states face a number of other common challenges:

  • Encouraging economic development without political instability;
  • Regional economic challenges;
  • Water management and the related water–energy nexus;
  • A ‘‘youth bulge’’ combined with limited economic opportunities (outside of Kazakhstan);
  • Cross-border migration;
  • Serious and worsening corruption;
  • Potentially restive minority populations (such as the ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan at the center of the summer’s violence);
  • Drug trafficking;
  • Nuclear proliferation; and
  • Managing succession in autocratic states without strong government or party institutions.



The SCO annual meeting was recently held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This was a very important meeting from the Indian perspective, because for the first time, India participated in the meeting as a full Member.

What is SCO?

Shangai Cooperation Organization
  • SCO emerged from Shanghai Five (China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) which was founded in 1996 after demarcation of China’s borders with the four newly independent States that appeared after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. Shanghai Five was established to continue the momentum of friendship in the post-settlement phase. This was transformed into SCO with induction of Uzbekistan at Dushanbe in 2000.
  • It was created with an aim to strengthen mutual confidence and good-neighbourly relations among the member countries.
  • The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the highest decision-making body in the SCO.
  • It meets annually to take decisions and give instructions on all important issues of SCO activity. SCO has two permanent bodies – the Secretariat in Beijing and the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure in Tashkent. SCO Secretary-General and RCTS Executive Committee Director are appointed by the HSC for a period of three years.
  • The official working languages of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are Chinese and Russian. The SCO member states occupy a territory of around 30 million 189 thousand square kilometers, which makes up three fifths of the Eurasian continent. Member nations have a population of 1.5 billion, which makes up a quarter of the planet’s population.
  • Since its establishment, SCO has concluded several wide-ranging agreements on security, trade and investment, connectivity, energy club, SCO Bank, culture etc. Their implementation, however, remains uninspiring. This is partly because SCO lacks coherence. Having been created at China’s behest with Russian support, SCO is still grappling to evolve as a well-knit entity. Nevertheless, the significance of SCO cannot be underestimated because of the presence of large territorial and economic powers like Russia and China as also due to its geopolitical space.

Why India Matters To SCO?

  • Membership of India will add further heft and muscle to the Organization particularly in the backdrop of continuing weak international economy. India today is the fastest expanding global economy with annual GDP growth of 7.5%. It represents the third largest economy (USD 8 trillion) in PPP terms and seventh largest (USD 2.3 trillion) in nominal dollar terms.
  • It inspires confidence on other indicators like FDI, inward remittances, savings rate, the pace of economic reforms etc.
  • Its large market, favourable demographics and technological prowess augur well for economies of the world as well as of the grouping. Its growing energy demand will provide an assured market to resource-rich Central Asia and Russia.


  •  India had become Observer to the Organization at its 5th Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan in 2005.Since then India had subtly indicated its interest in playing a more substantive role in the development of the Organization.
  • SCO decided in 2009 to focus on its vertical consolidation before embarking on a horizontal expansion. Moratorium on expansion was lifted two years ago after which India formally applied to join the Organization. In 2015 the SCO was expanded and India and Pakistan became full members of the SCO.

What’s In It For India?

Geo-political and strategic cooperation

  • Economic agenda of SCO adopted in 2005 has not delivered impressive results. This will also receive an impetus. Terrorism and radicalism are the most formidable challenges confronting international community today. India has been a victim of terrorist attacks for the last 30 years in which it has lost several thousand innocent children, women and men.
  • Battling with terrorism has provided invaluable experience to Indian security establishment in intelligence gathering, training, foiling terrorist operations etc which it can share with SCO partners. The threat of terrorism to the region is particularly grave on account of continuing violence in Afghanistan which can embolden regional groups like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut-Tahrir etc to destabilise governments in Central Asia.
  • Scourge of radicalism also looms large over the region with expansion of influence by Islamic State (IS) and reported desertion of several cadres of Taliban, Al Qaeda etc to join the jihadi IS ranks.
  • Several hundred young men and women have fled their homes in Central Asia to bolster ISIS forces that are spreading their tentacles to Central Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. India has an enviable track record in handling these twin scourges. It can share its experience and best practices with SCO members to mutual benefit and advantage.
  • In future SCO will need to step up to the plate and assume responsibility to provide security in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the withdrawal of US and Nato ISAF forces. By Joining SCO India will get an opportunity to play its due role in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan which is assuming disturbing proportions on account of expanding the power of Taliban.

Economic & Trade COOPERATION

  • Central Asia is part of India’s extended neighbourhood. Its relations with these countries have however failed to realise the enormous potential in enhancing ties in security, political, economy, trade, investment, energy, connectivity, capacity development etc because India does not share common land borders with the region and also because of infrequent visits at the highest level between India and Central Asian States.
  • India’s membership will provide a welcome opportunity to Indian Prime Ministers to meet with Presidents from Central Asia regularly and frequently. India’s potential participation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be an added advantage to make this partnership more fruitful.
  • Central Asia represents the ‘’near-abroad’’ for Russia. Both India and Russia can collaborate to reciprocal benefit in all above areas. India’s development experience particularly in promoting agriculture, SMEs, pharmaceuticals, IT etc can be of immense benefit to these countries.

What did India say in the Recently held Tashkent summit of SCO

  •  India highlighted India’s historical linkages with the region to drive home the point that the country’s membership to the SCO would stretch the region’s boundaries from the Pacific to Europe; and from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean.
  • India also vowed to adopt zero tolerance and a comprehensive approach in fighting terrorism at all levels. Pointing to Afghanistan, PM Modi said a stable, independent and peaceful Afghanistan is necessary for greater security and stability in SCO region.
  • The PM commented that India’s membership of SCO would contribute to region’s prosperity. It would also strengthen its security. Our partnership will protect our societies from the threats of radical ideologies of hate, violence and terror.”
  • PM remarked that India’s membership of the SCO will help drive the region’s economic growth.
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

how to get pdf of the articles..

Naveen Shekhar
Naveen Shekhar
5 years ago

Good summary.

User Avatar
1 year ago


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch