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International Relations

India-Central Asia Summit

  • 28 Jan 2022
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: India-Central Asia Summit, China-Central Asia Conference, Delhi Declaration, Ashgabat Agreement, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India-Central Asia Dialogue

For mains: Global Groupings, India and its Neighbourhood, Significance of Central Asia for India, Geo-political Dynamics of the Region.

Why in News

Recently, the Prime Minister of India hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit in virtual format.

  • It was attended by Presidents of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan.
  • This first India-Central Asia coincided with the 30th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Central Asian countries.
  • The summit came two days after a similar China-Central Asia Conference was held where China offered USD 500 million in assistance and pledged to ramp up trade to USD 70 billion from the present levels of about USD 40 billion a year.

Key Points

  • Institutionalisation of the Summit:
    • Discussed the next steps in taking India-Central Asia relations to new heights. In a historic decision, the Leaders agreed to institutionalise the Summit mechanism by deciding to hold it every 2 years.
    • They also agreed on regular meetings of Foreign Ministers, Trade Ministers, Culture Ministers and Secretaries of the Security Council to prepare the groundwork for the Summit meetings.
    • An India-Central Asia Secretariat in New Delhi would be set up to support the new mechanism.
  • India-Central Asia Cooperation:
    • The Leaders discussed far-reaching proposals to further cooperation in areas of trade and connectivity, development cooperation, defence and security and, in particular, on cultural and people to people contacts.These included:
      • Round-Table on Energy and Connectivity.
      • Joint Working Groups at senior official level on Afghanistan and use of Chabahar Port.
      • Showcasing of Buddhist exhibitions in Central Asian countries and commissioning of an India-Central Asia dictionary of common words.
      • Joint counter-terrorism exercises.
      • Visit of 100 member youth delegation annually from Central Asian countries to India and special courses for Central Asian diplomats.
    • A comprehensive Joint Declaration was adopted by the leaders that enumerates their common vision for an enduring and comprehensive India-Central Asia partnership.
  • Afghanistan:
    • The leaders reiterated their strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan with a truly representative and inclusive government.
    • India conveyed its continued commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
  • India’s Stand on:
    • Kazakhstan: It has become a vital partner for India’s energy security. India also expressed condolences for the recent loss of life and property in Kazakhstan.
    • Uzbekistan: India’s state governments are also active partners in its growing cooperation with Uzbekistan.
    • Tajikistan: Both the countries have a longstanding cooperation in the field of security.
    • Turkmenistan: It is an important part of Indian vision in the field of regional connectivity, which is evident from participation in the Ashgabat Agreement.
      • Regional connectivity in Central Asia is a key arm of the 2018 Ashgabat Agreement.

Significance of the Summit for India

  • Geo-Political Dynamics:
    • The summit is symbolic of the importance attached by the leaders of India and the Central Asian countries to a comprehensive and enduring India-Central Asia partnership.
    • It is being held at a critical juncture when tensions between the West and Russia and the United States (US) and China are rising. India too has faced geopolitical setbacks: Border tensions with China and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
    • It follows President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India, which may have allowed India to push Russia to moderately balance China in Eurasia and to contain the threats from Afghanistan.
    • The recent unrest in Kazakhstan also showed that “new actors” are vying for influence in the region though their motives are still not clear.
  • Trade:
    • India has always maintained excellent diplomatic ties with all the five Central Asian states, Indian PMs including Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, have visited them. Yet, India’s trade with them has been only at USD 1.4 billion in 2019.
    • In 2017, India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) to engage with the region. But SCO is only a sluice gate to regulate the Russian and Chinese subliminal rivalry to prevent either power from dominating the region.
      • Russia tends to use SCO for regulating India-China tensions.
  • Security:
    • The summit is a massive stride for India’s diplomacy. Since the region is a critical lynchpin to India’s security policy, the summit will have a waterfall impact to facilitate India’s multifaceted approach towards the region.

India-Central Asia Dialogue 

  • It is a ministerial-level dialogue between India and the Central Asian countries namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
  • All five nations became independent states after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, post-Cold war.
  • All the countries participating in the dialogue, except for Turkmenistan, are also members of the SCO.
  • The dialogue focuses on a number of issues including ways to improve connectivity and stabilise war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Way Forward

  • India first needs to get its big-picture imagination of the region correct. Central Asia is undoubtedly a zone of India’s civilisational influence.
    • The Ferghana Valley was India’s crossing-point of the Great Silk Road. Buddhism spread to the rest of Asia from here.
    • The Valley still connects India with three countries: Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
  • When others engage with the region from the own perspectives --- China from economic (Belt and Road Initiative), Russia from strategic (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), Turkey from ethnic (Turkic Council), and the Islamic world from religious (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) --- it would be befitting for India to give a cultural and historical perspective to the region through a summit-level annual meet.
  • Central Asia carries no specific stance towards any country, with the exception of Russia. While their strategic visions are often opaque, they are wary of China.
  • However, they have strong economic ties with China compared to little or no economic dependency on India.
  • The region’s negative attitude towards Pakistan is waning, either due to the gradual Islamization of the population or perhaps due to Russia’s changed attitude towards Pakistan.
  • The notion of “Hindustan” in the popular imagination of the people and their traditional fondness for Bollywood could be critical factors in burnishing the relationship. But with generational change, India’s soft power is fading. This needs to be arrested. Apart from commerce, only a value-driven cultural policy can replace the current ill-defined goals of rebuilding India-Central Asia bonds.

Source: PIB

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