Evolving Partnership of India and Central Asian Republics « Khabarhub
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Evolving Partnership of India and Central Asian Republics

The prospects of India-Central Asian relations is not a new one. Several facets of cultures, civilizations, and intellectual histories of the two regions suggest that they evolved not in isolation, but through reciprocal cultural enrichment.

In modern times, however, the importance of Central Asia to India is not merely civilizational and historical, but also geopolitical and economic.

The geo-strategic location of the Central Asian Republics (CAR) has made this region extremely fundamental which has attracted the attention of various countries, including India.

In fact, today Central Asia is the region that is considered a critical area in the foreign policy of the West, South, and East Asian countries.

India is making a serious bid to forge new equations with CAR because India as an extended neighbor has major geo-strategic and economic interests to cater to.

The future prospects for cooperation between CAR and India in the field of energy security seem to be very crucial.

India sails in the same boat and is facing a serious challenge of energy security as the meager presence of domestic energy resources could not cater to the need of the hour.

New energy sources from Central Asia will play an important role in the Indian energy strategy in the coming years. Peace and stability in CARs and Afghanistan seem to be the most significant factor for India’s security.

Energy Security

In recent epoch and over the turn of the century, energy has turned out to be an essential factor in running economies.

This rigid contest is the apprehension and origin of ‘energy security’ of the nations as their economic independence depends on it.

India sails in the same boat and is facing a serious challenge of energy security as the meager presence of domestic energy resources could not cater to the need of the hour.

Central Asia is significant for India as it is well versed with energy resources as it has an abundance of oil and gas deposits. It contains vast hydrocarbon fields both on-shore and off-shore in the Caspian Sea which homes around 4 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves and approximately 3 percent of oil reserves.

Already, the 2011 Agreement with Uzbekistan envisaged the Indian public sector company, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) and Videsh prospecting for oil and gas in the Karakal region in cooperation with the Uzbek state-owned company Uzbekneftegaz.

Strategically, Central Asia is emerging as the next high-stakes competition ground for global powers, hence, it would behoove India to pay closer attention.

As the petroleum resources of Central Asia came into international attention, the region has become the new destination for international oil companies and the great powers.

In Tajikistan, each sq. km. of the territory has up to 2 million kW hours of hydel resources and this is a very high figure.

Therefore, the cheap hydel energy available in this region can be of use to India if it can be delivered through feasible routes. India should actively look forward to framing large-scale strategies and signing deals to export minerals and oil from Central Asia.

India imports a large portion of its oil and gas from the Middle-East. However, due to continuous instabilities in the region, the price of these resources fluctuates.

Further, tensions between the US and Iran, too, impact India. Due to India’s heavy reliance on Middle-East partners, India is never in a good negotiating position and stands to lose.

Therefore, India needs to reconnect with Central Asia, which is geographically closer. India’s involvement in the region will be predicated on its economic needs.

Though CAR is rich in resources, it is landlocked with Afghanistan. It does not have direct access to India that has hindered India’s speculation in the region.

To get rid of such a problem, India has recently signed trade and transit agreements with Iran that will help India to have access to Central Asia. Chahbhar port besides giving access to the oil and gas wealth in Iran also provides entrance to the Central Asian Republic.

Robust Partnership

As part of India’s extended neighborhood, PM Modi’s five nations visit to the region in July 2015 can be seen as India’s efforts to pursue resource-rich Central Asia. It was the first comprehensive visit to CAR by an Indian PM since the early 1990s.

The broad objectives of Modi’s visit were, to take concrete steps for enhancing economic and trade links with an emphasis on energy and transport connectivity, to augment and deepen India’s strategic engagement with the greater Central Asian region by building closer bilateral ties as well as multilateral partnerships to aid stability and development in Afghanistan by further establishing physical connectivity through building the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which will lower the transport costs by 30 percent and distance by 40 percent and boost India’s trade and investments in the energy sector.

India’s recent acceptance as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has further helped in engagement, especially concerning trade and energy with Central Asia.

Strategically, Central Asia is emerging as the next high-stakes competition ground for global powers, hence, it would behoove India to pay closer attention.

Though, for India, its new relationship with Central Asia will be one that is constructive and mutually dependent as their interest overlap in Afghanistan.

Additionally, counterterrorism has emerged as a critical area of cooperation, with India having joint working groups on counterterrorism with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and Indian Prime Minister Modi seeking support for India’s proposal on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

Similarly, Kazakhstan has a civil nuclear deal with India to provide the highly demanded uranium while the latter has ties with Kyrgyzstan on the import of oil and petroleum products.

New Delhi assists Kyrgyzstan with human resource development in the IT sector and it imports pharmaceutical products, mechanical equipment, automotive parts, and optical instruments from India.

Both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are interested in instituting joint defense production with India. For many Central Asian countries, India’s growing economic power makes it an attractive partner.

India seeks to have a firm grip and exercise influence in Central Asia along with other great powers so that this strategically located region does not become an area dominated by forces hostile to India’s interests.

Aspiring to be an influential global power, India has to be a player in the unfolding ‘Great Game’ in Central Asia, in an equal footing with the other major players like the United States, Russia, and China if it has to defend its imperative national interests in Central Asia.

The geopolitics of this resource-rich region is shifting very fast and India with rising energy requirements needs to swing gears.

Moreover, during India-Central Asia-Afghanistan Dialogue in Samarkand in January 2019, it was stressed to establish a closer all-round relationship between India and Central Asia, and to create an association with all Central Asian countries to connect the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran and Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail routes with the port of Chahbhar to transport cargo along the Central Asia-India route.

It was also agreed to create international and regional transport corridors and to attract Indian investments and technologies to Central Asian economies which were an important milestone in the ties between CARs and India.

India has also supported multiple regional connectivity initiatives in Central Asia as New Delhi has recently joined the Ashgabat Agreement that seeks to establish an International Transport and Transit Corridor between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has recently built a rail link between Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan which India wishes to see it extended till Afghanistan’s Herat.


India’s interest in expanding ties with its extended neighborhood stems from New Delhi’s desire to promote security, stability and growth. Apart from these advantages, engaging with Central Asia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan offer India a bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The geopolitics of this resource-rich region is shifting very fast and India with rising energy requirements needs to swing gears.

The faster development collaboration between India and Central Asian countries would prove beneficial to both since Central Asia would be able to access appropriate technologies and knowledge from India and India could access the rich natural resources and upcoming markets in the region.

Therefore, strengthening of relations between India and Central Asia is a win-win proposition as it would benefit all countries involved, including Afghanistan.

(Dr. Tawseef Ahmad Bhat teaches Political Science in Government Degree College, Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir, India)

(Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE), Nepal’s independent think tank, and Khabarhub — Nepal’s popular news portal — have joined hands to disseminate NIICE research articles from Nepal)

Publish Date : 17 May 2020 08:15 AM

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