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India-Central Asia Virtual Summit

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January 29, 2022

Why in news?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit in virtual format which was attended by Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

How has the India-Central Asia relation evolved?

History

  • Ancient kingdoms like the Kushana Empire had territory in parts of both regions creating historical and civilizational linkages.
  • The relationship strengthened in the medieval ages with the advent of Islam and establishment of Muslim rule in India, many of whose rulers had their origins in Central Asia.
  • Modern Central Asia consists of five nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan which became independent after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
  • The Central Asian region is considered to be the part of India’s “extended neighbourhood.”

Geostrategic importance

  • Central Asia is strategically positioned as an access point between Europe and Asia and offers extensive potential for trade, investment, and growth.

Geoeconomic Importance

  • The region is richly endowed with commodities such as crude oil, natural gas, cotton, gold, copper, aluminium, and iron.
  • India is working to invest in the region in the IT and education sectors as India has a very big IT sector and qualified working professionals.

Geo Security Cooperation

  • Security cooperation includes conducting joint research on military-defence issues, coordinating on counterterrorism measures, and a special focus on the issue of Afghanistan.

Soft Power

  • The people-to-people contact has been a defining feature of India’s Connect Central Asia Policy.
  • Indian cultural products have been extremely popular in the region since the time of the USSR.

What is the summit about?

  • The first India-Central Asia coincided with the 30th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Central Asian countries.
  • The leaders of the five central Asian countries were likely to be the chief guest, but the country saw a rise in COVID-19 cases which led to curtailed celebrations.
  • Objectives of the summit
    1. to make it clear that cooperation between India and Central Asia is essential for regional security and prosperity
    2. to give an effective structure to India- Central Asia cooperation by establishing a framework of regular interactions at different levels
    3. to create an ambitious roadmap for the cooperation

What was the outcome of the summit?

  • Institutionalisation of the Summit- The Leaders agreed to institutionalize 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.
  • Secretariat- An India-Central Asia Secretariat in New Delhi would be set up to support the new mechanism.
  • Areas of discussion- The Leaders discussed to further cooperation in areas of trade and connectivity, development cooperation, defence and security and on cultural and people to people contacts.
  • These included
    • Round-Table on Energy and Connectivity
    • Joint Working Groups at senior official level on Afghanistan
    • Use of Chabahar Port
    • Showcasing of Buddhist exhibitions in Central Asian countries
    • 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
    • Special courses for Central Asian diplomats
  • Areas of concern- The lack of access to land routes, and the situation in Afghanistan are among the biggest challenges.
  • Joint Declaration- A comprehensive Joint Declaration was adopted by the leaders for an enduring and comprehensive India-Central Asia partnership.

What were the areas of concern noted in the joint statement?

  • Trade- There is the problem of retreating trade with only 2 billion dollars, spent mostly on Kazakhstan’s energy exports to India.
  • In comparison, China’s CAR trade figures have exceeded 41 billion dollars apart from the money invested in the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Connectivity- Pakistan is denying India transit trade.
  • New Delhi’s option is to smoothen the route through Iran’s Chabahar port, but that will involve greater investment in rail and road routes, something India is hesitant to do in the face of U.S. sanctions.
  • The option to use the Russia-Iran International North-South Transport Corridor via Bandar Abbas port is also challenging as it is not fully operational and at least two CARs (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) are not members.
  • India has also concerns over TAPI gas pipeline plans (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India), given the tensions with Pakistan.
  • Afghanistan- Afghanistan is the delicate link between Central Asia and South Asia.
  • With Taliban takeover, there is no official government, a humanitarian crisis is building, and there are worries of terrorism and radicalism spilling over its boundaries.

What interventions were made by India in Central Asia?

  • New Delhi signed the Strategic Partnership Agreements with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to stimulate defence cooperation and deepen trade relations.
  • India formulated its Connect Central Asia Policy which is a broad-based approach including political, security, economic, and cultural connections.
  • India signed MoUs with Iran in 2015 to develop the Chabahar port in the Sistan-Baluchistan province to diversify the export markets and control China’s ambitions.
  • The government has also proposed to include the strategic Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
  • The Central Asian countries have admitted New Delhi into the Ashgabat Agreement allowing India to facilitate trade and commercial interactions with Central Asia and Eurasia.
  • India has extended a credit line of 200 million dollar for the support of development projects in Kyrgyzstan.
  • It has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on High-Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP).
  • India has supported efforts for a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

 

References

  1. https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/at-the-centre/article38341998.ece
  2. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1793068
  3. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/days-after-china-pm-modi-holds-summit-with-five-central-asian-countries-7744679/

 

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