By Dr. Bawa Singh
In order to reconnect and reinvigorate the historical and geo-cultural relations with the Central Asia, India has refashioned and reoriented its foreign policy in the manifestation of policy frameworks such as North Look Policy, Extended Neighbourhood Policy and Connect Central Asia Policy. The Central Asia has been holding a pivotal position in the foreign policies of the major powers including India for the given of its strategic location and rich mineral resources. On the other hand, with the introduction of open market since 1990s, the Indian economy has been on the higher trajectory, which is required energy security, whereas on the other hand, Central Asia is very rich in the same.
In the backdrop of emerging Indian economy, the Central Asian region holds a pivotal position for India’s geostrategic, geo-economic and geopolitical dynamics. Geostrategicaly, both regions have been sharing serious security concerns such as terrorism, radicalization, extremism, drug and human trafficking. Geo-economically, complementarities are existing in terms of energy, market and investments. Geopolitically, Central Asia is pivot of international political dynamics. Moreover, India cannot afford to ignore Central Asia for the given its emerging economy, global stature, and hostile neighbourhood.
India’s Central Asia Policy
India and Central Asia have been sharing many complementarities in terms of energy, market, capital and the security challenges. Indian Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao (1991–1996), made Central Asia AS an area of priority for foreign policy. He launched Look North Policy to reconnect with Central Asia encompassing political, cultural, and religious dimensions. Similarly, the Central Asia has been conceived as an important part of Extended Neighbourhood policy. However, these earlier policy frameworks had not been fructified.
During the key note address to the First India-Central Asia Dialogue, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Shri E. Ahamed ((2004–14), has given the framework of the Connect Central Asia policy, launched on 12 June, 2012. The main objectives of this policy are multi-dimensional such as political, security, economic and cultural re-engagements. About 12 sectors areas of cooperation have been identified under this policy. To fortify political and security cooperation, exchange of political visits, military training, counter-terrorism coordination, joint research, and close consultations on Afghanistan, are some of the areas of cooperation identified to refocus on. India committed to step up multilateral engagement with Central Asia through the fora like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and the Custom Union. India looks the Central Asia as a long term partner in terms of energy security and connectivity.
Upon taking over the charge of Indian government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had realized the geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic salience of the Central Asia. Hence, coming out of initial hibernation, India has given pivotal place to Central Asia in its policy. PM Narendra Modi paid eight days visit (July 6 to 13, 2015) to all the five countries in one go. He attended the BRICS and SCO Summits during this visit. Energy, anti-terror and connectivity were some of the areas, discussed by PM Modi with his counter-partners in these Summits.
Withering India’s Central Asia Policy
Both regions had been enjoyed the civilizational and geo-cultural bonds. But these bonds have not been substantiated by the current engagements in terms of economic, political and cultural bonds. Geo-economic engagements despite many policy frameworks, MoUs, joint statements and joint communiques have not been showing any sign of improvement in terms of trade and investments. India’s trade with Central Asia, relatively has been at the lowest ebb i.e.,0.87 billion (2015). Central Asia’s trade with Russia, China and the US stood at the value of US$ 20.46 billion, US$ 32.60 billion and US$ 26.13 billion respectively which shows India’s has only a paltry share in regions’ trade and investment. Energy cooperation is the main foundation of the regional cooperation. But TAPI gas pipeline, started in March 15, 1995 originating from Galkynysh gas field (Turkmenistan) to reach Fazilka (India), passing through Herat, Kandahar, Quetta and Multan has not been realized till date. The same fate has been experienced by another gas pipeline IPI. Strategically, India has been outfoxed from the Central Asia, Ayni air base is in case. India has not been important partner is Moscow led Afghan peace talk. Now, India along with Pakistan, has been made permanent member of SCO, but the emerging new triumvirate alliance, will pose a serious challenges for India’s Eurasian policy in general and Central Asian policy in particular.
At the last, it is concluded that despite historical and civilizational bonds, India’s Central Asian policy has not been fructified. From economically engagement points of view, India is at the lowest ebb. Energy gas pipelines has not been realized and reached to India. Strategically, India has been outfoxed from the region by the Russian strategic manoeuver. Thus, India’s Central Asia has been withered away. In order to make Central Asia policy successful, India has to translate the proposed projects into reality. Connectivity is to be focused upon. Relations with Russia and China have to be improved upon. Rather than going to the West, regional cooperation is more important.