- GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
India’s Central Asian outreach
Context: External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar was on three-nation Eurasian tour – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Armenia with an aim to further expand bilateral ties in the backdrop of Taliban taking over Afghanistan after US withdrawal.
Do You Know?
Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Armenia are all members of Russia-led Eurasian security alliance CSTO that has held numerous drills in recent months to deter any spillover of terrorism from Afghanistan.
Key Takeaways from the visit
- In Kyrgyzstan, India 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).
- In Kazakhstan, India’s EAM attended the 6th Foreign Ministers’ Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
- At CICA, India targeted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India said while greater connectivity was essential for the promotion of regional stability, it must not be pursued for parochial interests.
- India also confronted Pakistan for its support towards cross-border terrorism.
- The CICA meet among other issues discussed the possibilities of providing humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan.
- Mr. Jaishankar has become the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit Armenia
- India and Armenia agreed to enhance trade and cultural exchanges to boost bilateral relations.
- 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.
India’s Evolution of Relationship with Central Asia
- 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.
- India signed the Strategic Partnership Agreements (SPA) with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to stimulate defence cooperation and deepen trade relations.
- In 2012, India’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. China took advantage of the situation and unveiled the much-hyped BRI in Kazakhstan.
China, India and 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 India to step up its game in the region.
- Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited all the Central Asian countries in July 2015.
- Eventually, Central Asia became the link that placed Eurasia in India’s zone of interest.
- India signed MoUs with Iran in 2015 to develop the Chabahar port that was in plans from 2003. Most of the Central Asian leaders view India’s Chabahar port as an opportunity to diversify their export markets and control China’s ambitions.
- China’s ill-treatment of their Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province of China has created social discontent among Central Asian Leaders (Muslim majority countries)
- Central Asian countries have been keen to have India as a partner as they have sought to diversify their strategic ties.
- 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 India and Central Asia to reimagine their engagement. India should not lose any time to recalibrate its engagement with Central Asia.
Connecting the dots: