Geo-Political Importance of Central Asia to India

21 Oct, 1999    ·   274

KM Pari Velan discusses the geo-political importance Central Asian countries to India

Central Asia , comprising Uzbekistan , Tajikistan , Krgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhastan, has geopolitical significance for the post-cold war international system due to:



·                     its geographical location, with Russia to the north; China and Mongolia to the east; India , Pakistan , Iran and Afghanistan to the south; Turkey and Georgia to the west.


·                     abundance of oil and natural reserves and vast mineral and natural resources. 


·                     multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual population, but predominantly Muslims population.


·                     Its nation/state-building and modernization process, which provide vast opportunities for infrastructure building by external sources.


India and Central Asia have ancient links. The archeological and historical evidences points to their close cultural, trade and political links. Central Asia provided the 'silk route' for China , India , and Europe . In the post- Cold War period of globalization and multi-polarity, there is enormous scope for a convergence of interests between India and the Central Asian republics. This could emerge on a variety of issues such as: 



o                    coping with global economic changes ; 


o                    dealing with the multi-polar world dominated by few powerful states; 


o                    tackling ethnic and cultural diversity associated with ethno-nationalism; 


o                    tackling the menace of religious fundamentalism and trans-border terrorism; 


o                    nation/state building and related establishment of institutions; the common thread binding India and Central Asian states is that both are 'plural societies', which need build a liberal, secular and democratic model. 


The geo-strategic importance of the Central Asian states requires India to have good relations with them. Currently their relationship is only lukewarm. Close relations could them benefit in several ways: 



·                     It would counter balance Pakistan from using the Islamic card against India in Islamic fora. 


·                     It would provide opportunities for constructing oil and natural gas pipelines in the future. 


·                     India and the Central Asian states are affected by narco-religious terrorism arising instigated by the Taliban and Osma bin Laden, so there is scope for India to work out a common strategy with them. 


Managing plural states despite proximity to aberrant states is tough. India and Central Asian states face a common threat from cross-border terrorism from Islamic extremists abetted by the Taliban and Pakistan . This is the biggest threat to the South, Central and the West Asian region. The recently held Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Central Asia (CICA) at Almaty, Kazakhastan was significant in this regard. India and Central Asia can cooperate in evolving common mechanisms and measures to jointly combat terrorism



In the economic sphere, there is enormous scope. New Delhi is making economic and political contact with each of the Central Asian states. Earlier New Delhi had signed a treaty on ' Principles of Inter State Cooperation' with Uzbekistan and a 'Declaration on Principles and Direction of Co-operation with Kazakhastan, Krygystan, Tajikistan , and Turkmenistan . Immediately after their independence, the Uzbek and Kazakh Presidents made their respective first official visit to India . New Delhi has extended a credit of US $20 million each to Uzbekistan and Kazakhastan; US $15 million to Turkmenistan , and US $5 million each to Kyrgystan and Tajikistan .



The vast scope for economic co-operation is evident from the fact that Kazakhastan is rich in petroleum, iron ore, and other minerals; Uzbekistan has large gold deposits and it is a major cotton producer; Tajikistan has large aluminum deposits; Turkmenistan has large reserves of natural gas. In return, India can offer assistance in the area of automobiles, textiles, hotel industry, banking, insurance, drugs and pharmaceuticals, non-conventional sources of energy and electronics. Besides, India has offered training facilities to Central Asian students, journalists and diplomats. India is also ready to offer new credit facilities also. Expansion of trade and transport of goods to and from India via Iran is viable. India has cooperated in construction of the railway segment connecting Mashad and Sarakha in Iran and Turkmenistan . India needs to build a long-term strategy to play a role and derive geo-strategic and geo-political benefits from the Central Asian region.