Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
President Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambaev made first visit to India where he met PM of India. Both leaders held extensive delegation level talks after which agreements were signed on foreign office consultations, sports, broadcast cooperation and bilateral investment. This visit important for India to catch up with the region on various issues of regional cooperation, terrorism, economic cooperation and larger issues of diplomacy at global stage.
India will be celebrating 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Kyrgyzstan in 2017. President of Kyrgyzstan’s visit to India follows President of Tajikistan’s visit.
In 2016, PM Modi visited five Central Asian countries on way to Ufa BRICS summit and attending SCO meet. The ongoing engagement with Central Asian countries is going on since 1991-92 after breakup of Soviet Union and independence of five countries.
Significance of Central Asia
Visit by President of Central Asian country is highly significant where the region is undergoing tremendous changes.
The Chinese have gone a big way to make their presence felt in the region
The region facing huge challenge from Islamic extremism and ISIS
China factor– It is increasingly becoming aggressive in the region with its rising economic clout on world stage. Many years ago when US was rising, then it was also asserting its power. Thus every rising power will assert power on global and regional stage trying to influence it.
China has penetrated into region economically with one belt one road and militarily also
The Silk Road project was announced in Central Asia in 2014 in Kazakhstan. China has invested heavily to connect China with Eurasian countries. It is also making CPEC an important economic corridor. So Central Asia is a transit area were China has huge stake in Central Asian countries in many ways.
All Central Asian countries and also Russia have consented for Chinese initiative. This is where challenge for India comes. They are willingly accepting the Chinese initiative and all these issues of connectivity- economic, energy and also dealing with political issues. This raises the Chinese influence in the region manifold.
Islamic Extremism– There is Islamic extremism challenge in region and there is constant state of turmoil in Afghanistan. The central Asian countries don’t have much role to play in Afghanistan but Afghanistan is important for everyone. Like India, they are also affected by problems in Afghanistan.
The main issue is that central Asian countries face lot of problem in terms of terrorism, extremism and separatist tendencies. For example, Islamic movement of Uzbekistan is also present in Kyrgyzstan. There are other small groups like hizbut tahrir, Islamic Turkistan movement etc. Many of these outfits do have connection with Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and hence there is always a potential threat from Afghanistan to this region.
This is where these countries are trying to find cooperation with India in terms of how to deal with terrorism. So far they have effectively dealt with terrorism in the region, especially Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In future if ISIS presence grows, it will become a major challenge for countries. Therefore, these countries are seeking cooperation with India to learn how to tackle the issue of terrorism in terms of exchange of information, experience and capabilities to resolve the issues at regional level.
India connected to Central Asian countries
Connectivity is a major issues between India and Central Asia because of absence of peace in Afghanistan and hostile attitude of Pakistan. It is important for countries like Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan that India-Afghanistan-Iran have connectivity via Chabahar port. Thus, India is pursuing the connectivity issue with Iran since long with Bandar Abbas then and now Chabahar. Another connectivity line is INSTC it goes upto Russia. Improving the connectivity is real challenge because in absence of connectivity, presence is weak in terms of cost and distance in any exchange of commodities, especially for commerce and trade.
SCO and India
Membership to SCO is imminent and PM has said that SCO will also give a valuable framework to work together on issues like peace, stability and prosperity in region. Kyrgyzstan has ratified for India’s membership to SCO and soon more countries are expected to do it so as to cement India’s membership in SCO.
Central Asia is important for India as negative forces emerge in the Central Asia which would be detrimental to India’s interest. In the absence of connectivity, there is no platform where India can play a role in region. So it is because of India’s interest that it has sought to pursue SCO membership as it is the only option to know what is going on in the region.
Central Asia may not be important from economic view point but it is hugely important from strategic and economic viewpoint. If India is not a member of SCO, it wouldn’t be known what is happening in region. Pakistan is also becoming a member and there are chances that many contentious issues they might raise which are not raised in SAARC. Thus, India’s presence is extremely important in SCO.
It is also important in terms of what contribution India can make in terms of technology, investment, economic development of region, security, defence cooperation etc. So, India is slated to play an important role in the SCO.
India and Kyrgyzstan -history long ago
India has share of history with Kyrgyzstan. From days of Kanishka, Buddhism was heavily imbedded in Silk Road.
Kyrgyzstan is home to the Mughals of India and Emperor Babur came from the city Osh and even in his memoir, Baburnama, he refers to his place of origin in the mountains near Osh.
Thus, India and Kyrgyzstan share heritage and values.
Central Asia has so far been extremely friendly towards India because of certain legacy. During soviet time, India had direct contact with Central Asian region. All previous PMs have regularly visited and kept in touch with people of Central Asia. There is also a concept of Hindustan which is very strong in their psyche. However, India does not have economic and political presence. It is only about cultural goodwill that has not been able to convert into a more meaningful relationship.
India and Kyrgyzstan military relations
Military is one aspect of a nations which plays certain role to improve relationship with another country. India and Kyrgyzstan have been involved in regular military joint exercises. It is significant as it leads to better relationship between two countries. In international diplomacy, military also plays a huge role. Joint defence cooperation brings closer the military where the experiences are shared. It is also hoped that such exercises are conducted with other member countries of SCO after doing it with Kyrgyzstan for few years.
In 2017, annual joint military exercises named “Khanjar-IV” were held after “Khanjar-II” exercises in March 2015 in Kyrgyzstan and “Khanjar-III” in 2016.
Now, the entire geopolitical scenario of region is changing with Pakistan and Russia conducting first joint military exercise and more importance of SCO to bring stability in Afghanistan than SAARC.
There are many obstacles coming in between India and Central Asian region. One is strategy of Pakistan and possibly China also- strategy of denial– not to allow India and Central Asia to come together. That’s key policy of Pakistan to keep India and central Asia separate. If Russia’s relationship with Pakistan improves, there is a danger that other Central Asian countries will also listen to Pakistan. Thus, India has to be extra active to be able to more present in the region so that credibility, popularity and image remains strong in the region.
Connecting the dots:
India is increasingly growing its outreach to central Asian countries which provide a new market and geopolitical advantage. Analyse India’s role in the region and future possibilities for growth along with challenges.