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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- India has expertise in these sectors and deeper cooperation will give a fresh impetus to trade relations with these countries.
- 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.
Several significant developments have taken place in last few years.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
There are multiple benefits for India as well as the SCO which is concerned with security and stability in the Eurasian space.
- India’s presence will help moderate the anti-West bias of the grouping, which will calm Washington’s nerves to a considerable extent
- Greater engagement with India will also aid the organisation’s capability to improve regional economic prosperity and security
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
PRIME MINISTER’S CENTRAL ASIA VISIT
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?
- 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.
SCO & INDIA
- 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.