India-Central Asia Relations

Context:

  • The inaugural India-Central Asia Summit, the India-Central Asia Dialogue, and the Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan in New Delhi — all held over the past four months — collectively indicate a renewed enthusiasm in New Delhi to engage the Central Asian region.
  • India has limited economic and other stakes in the region, primarily due to lack of physical access.
  • And yet, the region appears to have gained a great deal of significance in India’s strategic thinking over the years, particularly in the recent past.

 

U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

  • It has led to a reassertion by China and Russia seeking to fill the power vacuum.
  • While China dominates the geo-economic landscape, Russia is the dominant politico-military power in the region.
  • Moscow considers India to be a useful partner in the region: it helps it to not only win back New Delhi, which is moving towards the U.S., but also to subtly checkmate the rising Chinese influence in its backyard.
  • For the U.S., while growing India-Russia relations is not a welcome development, it recognises the utility of Moscow-New Delhi relations in Central Asia to offset Beijing’s ever-growing influence there.
  • As for China, India’s engagement of the region and the growing warmth in India-Russia relations are not a cause for concern yet, but they could be eventually.
  • There are growing and legitimate concerns within the Indian strategic community that India in the region might get further hemmed in due to the combined efforts by China, Pakistan and Taliban-led Afghanistan.
  • If so, it must ensure that there is no China-led strategic gang up with Pakistan and the Taliban against India in the region, which, if it becomes a reality, would severely damage Indian interests.

 

Afghanistan:

  • India’s engagement of Central Asia would also help it to consolidate its post-American Afghan policy. U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has landed India in a major dilemma – it has very limited space to engage Taliban 2.0 despite the current relationship whose future depends on a number of variables.
  • During the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani governments, given their proximity to India and the presence of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, India was able to engage Kabul without too much hardship, despite Pakistani resistance.
  • Now that the Taliban have returned to Kabul, New Delhi is forced to devise new ways of engaging Afghanistan.
  • That’s where the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Russia could be helpful.

Challenges Ahead

  • That said, India’s ‘return’ to Central Asia is not going to be easy. For one, China, which shares a land border with the region, is already a major investor there.
  • China is the region’s most important economic partner, a reality that worries Russia and sharpens India’s relative irrelevance in the region.
  • An even bigger challenge for India may be Iran.
  • India’s best shot at reaching the CARs is by using a hybrid model – via sea to Chabahar and then by road/rail through Iran (and Afghanistan) to the CARs.
  • So, for New Delhi, the ongoing re-negotiations on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or the Iran nuclear deal) are of crucial importance.

       Source The Hindu

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