Prime Minister Modi to seek revival of India Central Asia relations

New Delhi, July 3 (ANI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit five Central Asian states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, for eight days next week

Apart from trying to secure the cooperation with the countries on strengthening relations and secure counter terrorism cooperation, Prime Minister Modi will seek to revive the close relations that India had with the Central Asian region since the third millennium B.C. According to archaeological evidence, the Bronze Age people of Central Asia had trade contacts with people of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

During the second millennium BC, there was a large scale migration of Aryans from Central Asia to India. The Silk Route, which was developed during the period, connected India to Central Asia, which helped in the spread of Buddhism in the region. An evidence of the spread of Buddhism is a twelve-meter-long Buddha statue in Tajikistan and the massive statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.

There was also an expansion of trade between India and Central Asia during the period. Exports to India included horses, sheep, gold, silver and precious stones. Exports from India included cotton cloth, woollen carpets, shawls and dyes. There also emerged a large Indian Diaspora in the Central Asian region.

The medieval period saw invasions of parts of India, commencing from the time of Timur. In 1528, Babar invaded India and established the Mughal Empire. During the Mughal period, a large number of Central Asians lived and settled in India.

The Mughal Empire started crumbling in the eighteenth century. Soon India saw the establishment of British rule and the Central Asian region saw the extension of Russian Tsarist rule. The Silk route lost its importance. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw the emergence of the “Great Game” and rivalry between the colonial powers of Britain and Russia.

The division of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 resulted in India losing its land route to Central Asia.

The end of the Cold War saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of five central independent states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in early 1990s.

India was among the first countries to recognize the five Central Asian states and established diplomatic relations with them. India now considers the Central Asian countries as part of its ‘extended and strategic neighbourhood’.

The national leaders from the five Central Asian Republics have visited India, and Indian leaders from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to Dr. Manmohan Singh have visited those countries and inked several wide ranging bilateral agreements and MOUs.

The policy objectives of India in Central Asia, as author Amiya Chandra says, are maintaining peace and stability, preventing terrorism and ensuring energy security.

India has also been making efforts to revive the Silk Route from the Iranian port of Chabahar to the Central Asian countries.

The effort is continuing and the latest instance is the visit of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to Iran during the second week of February, when Iran is reported to have pressed for commitments from India on the development of the Chabahar Port, and road and rail projects to Central Asia.

India recently appointed former Intelligence Bureau Director Asif Ibrahim as a special envoy to the countries in the region.

India’s trade with the countries of the region has been steadily increasing. There has been an increase in the export of pharmaceutical products to Central Asian countries and India has been importing uranium from Kazakhstan, under an agreement for the peaceful use of nuclear energy which was signed in 2011. India has also been exploring the import of uranium from Uzbekistan.

The region has become the scene of a ‘New Great Game’. Russia, the United States and more recently China are keen to exploit the natural resources of the region. For India, the lack of a common border with the Central Asian countries is one of the reasons for the progress being slow.

India’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy has gained momentum since the visit of former External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to Kyrgyzstan in 2012.

India is also exploring the possibility of strengthening its energy security through imports from the region. The progress has been slow and the proposal to establish a pipeline through Pakistan, which has been under discussion, has not seen much progress. As Amiya Chandra points out, the slow progress has been Pakistan’s unwillingness to let Indian goods move across its territory. The foremost players in the ‘New Great Game’ are the United States of America, Russia and China. China and Russia have been cooperating to reduce U.S. influence in the region.

China has established a pipeline, which according to reports, pumps 2, 00,000 barrels of oil everyday across the border into Xinkiang Province from Kazakhstan.

In this context, the book published by Pentagon Publishers, entitled India Central Asia Relations, The Economic Dimension, edited by Amiya Chandra, is very relevant. The book gives details of India’s relations with the five Central Asian countries and Amiya Chandra feels that the way in which India handles its relationship with Central Asia will have a bearing on the continued emergence of India as a global player. The book suggests that in order to overcome obstacles like limited land connectivity and the comparatively modest size of the Central Asian markets, India must intensify its diplomatic efforts within the framework of its “Connect Central Asia” policy.

One looks forward to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has taken giant steps to improve bilateral relations with major powers, to strengthen efforts to revive India-Central Asia relations.

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on his e-mail raoramamohan@hotmail.com.

By I. Ramamohan Rao (ANI)

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