- GS-2: India and its neighbourhood
India-Central Asia summit
Context: First India-Central Asia Summit hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
- The India-Central Asia summit, that marked 30 years of diplomatic relations, came two days after a similar China-Central Asia Conference was held where Chinese President Xi Jinping offered $500 million in assistance and pledged to ramp up trade to $70 billion (presently $40 billion)
What are the key challenges in India-Central Asia relation?
- Low levels of Trade: A paltry $2 billion, spent mostly on Kazakhstan’s energy exports to India. In comparison, China’s trade figures with the region have exceeded $41 billion — they could double by 2030 — apart from the billions of dollars invested in the Belt and Road Initiative.
- Lack of overland connectivity: India doesn’t have a direct transit route with landlocked Central Asian Republics, hence it has to depend on third party for the trade connectivity with the region.
- Obstacles by Pakistan: With Pakistan denying India transit trade through its land, it is difficult for India to connect with five Central Asian Republics (CAR).
- Challenges with Iran: New Delhi’s other option to smoothen the route to Central Asia is through Iran’s Chabahar port. However, this will involve greater investment in rail and road routes to Iran’s northern boundaries with the CARs, something India is hesitant to do in the face of U.S. sanctions.
- Challenges with Russia: Another option option is to use the Russia-Iran International North-South Transport Corridor via Bandar Abbas port, but this is not fully operational and at least two CARs (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) are not members.
- TAPI still a dream: India too, has dragged its feet over TAPI gas pipeline plans (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), due to supply guarantees, given the tensions with Pakistan.
- Afghanistan Conundrum: Afghanistan is the tenuous link between Central Asia and South Asia. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there is no official government, a humanitarian crisis is building, and there are worries of terrorism and radicalism spilling over its boundaries.
- Increased Competition in the region: While Russia is the most strategic player, China is now the biggest development and infrastructure partner to the countries. Pakistan has also increased its outreach to the CARs, signing transit trade agreements, offering trade access to the Indian Ocean at Gwadar and Karachi.
Key Takeaways from the first Summit of India with CAR
- PM Modi reiterated that ties between India and the region have been historically close, with “civilisational, cultural, trade and people-to-people linkages”.
- A number of high-level exchanges between the two sides, including bi-annual summits, and annual meetings of the Foreign, Trade and Cultural Ministers and Secretaries of Security (National Security Advisors) is accepted that will enhance the diplomatic relationship.
- A plan to build a “Central Asia Centre” in New Delhi.
- Announced two “Joint Working Groups” (JWGs) on Afghanistan and the Chabahar port project.
- The Leaders emphasised that connectivity projects deserve priority attention and could be a force-multiplier for trade and economic cooperation and contacts between countries and people
India will need to move nimbly to ensure it stays in step with the changes, and to make certain the future of ties more closely resembles the deep ties of the distant past.
Connecting the dots: