India and Central Asia Relations
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INDIA and CENTRAL ASIA RELATIONS

Context

  • Recently, the 2nd meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue was hosted virtually. The dialogue saw the participation of counterparts from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and also the first deputy foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Key Details

  • The Ministers highly assessed the 1st meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held on 13 January 2019 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) in establishing a platform for strengthening cooperation between India and the Central Asian countries in political, security, economic and commercial, development partnership, humanitarian and cultural spheres as well as exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest and enhancing cooperation under the framework of UN and other multilateral fora. 
  • The Ministers emphasized the need to continue close cooperation between the Sanitary and Epidemiological Services of India and the Central Asian countries in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.

India and Central Asia

  • Central Asian countries and India share long cultural links, which will be crucial in reducing the threat of radicalisation by cooperating with each other.
  • Apart from strong economic bonds, cultural exchanges between the two regions also flourished. This included the spread of Buddhism from India to Central Asia and beyond, and Sufism from Central Asia to India.
  • India provided US$ 1 billion Line of Credit for priority developmental projects in fields such as connectivity, energy, IT, healthcare, education, agriculture etc.
  • India’s offer to provide grant assistance for implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP) for furthering socio-economic development in the countries of the region.
  • The Ministers emphasized that as a B2B body under the India- Central Asia Dialogue, ICABC should promote business linkages, facilitate greater understanding of taxation, business regulations in India and the Central Asian countries and incentivize trade, business and investment, especially in the area of Small and Medium Enterprises.
  • Other important areas-India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC) in New Delhi.
  • Ministers of the Central Asian countries appreciated India’s efforts to modernize the infrastructure of the Chabahar port in Iran, which could become an important link in trade and transport communications between the markets of Central and South Asia.
  • India would like to assist in the setting up of a Central Asian University in Bishkek.
  • India is working on setting up a Central Asian e-network with its hub in India, to deliver, tele-education and tele-medicine connectivity.
  • As for land connectivity, India has reactivated the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
  • Indian and Kazakh armies engaged in a joint exercise to strengthen bilateral army-army ties and exchange information and skills.

Importance of Central Asia

  • The countries of Central Asia are endowed with significant hydrocarbon and mineral resources.
  • 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.
  • The economic development of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, leads to development of sectors like IT, pharmaceuticals and tourism. 
  • Central Asia has huge cultivable areas lying barren and without being put to any productive use. Uzbekistan alone offers an enormous opportunity for cultivation of pulses.
  • The entire region of Central Asia is a large producer of raw hides and semi-processed wet blue skins. 
  • All Central Asian states produce cotton of high quality. Some major Indian textile companies should be considering setting up a few integrated textile plants in the region to manufacture good quality cotton & blended fabrics. 
  • Many important spices especially essential Mediterranean spices that are consumed in India are found in Central Asia. 
  • Kazakhstan is ranked fifth in the world in terms of consuming Indian tea.

Challenges

  • Lack of direct access to Central Asia
  • unstable situation in Afghanistan and a highly problematic India-Pakistan relation
  • Chinese presence through Silk Road Economic Belt (BRI) initiative
  • Afghanistan remains a challenge especially after the withdrawal of US troops
  • Growth of radicalism in recent times
  • Growing axis of Russia-China-Pakistan
  • The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI)pipelines projects are not moving smoothly
  • India does not have institutional mechanisms to connect with Central Asia like the India-Africa forum.
  • India does not share physical borders with any of the Central Asian states.
  • Due to delays and US sanctions, India has been cut out of Chabahar-Zahedan line project and an Iranian gas field project, Farzad B.
  • India has lost Iran’s trust, making it difficult to promote future joint infrastructure projects, which is vital for India-Central Asia connectivity.

Recent Initiatives to Connect Central Asia

  • Renovation of Chabahar port in Iran
  • India ratified the International Road Transport (TIR) Convention.
  • Development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC)
  • Becoming a member of Ashgabat Agreement, Shanghai Cooperation Organiztion(SCO) and Eurasian Economic Union(EEU)
  • Central Asia is one of the largest beneficiaries of Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program

Way Forward

  • The Connect Central Asia Policy must be implemented speedy with high level visits, strategic partnerships, comprehensive economic engagement, partnership in the development of energy and natural resources to ensure India’s strategic interests.
  • India could use its soft power to increase its acceptability in Central Asia.

Back to Basics

  • Central Asiais a region in Asia which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It has acted as a crossroads for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, West Asia, South Asia, and East Asia. Central Asia has historically been closely tied to its nomadic peoples and the Silk Road.
  • Uzbekistan is the most populous country (over 30 million) accounting for 45 per cent of Central Asia’s total population.

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