Venue: Room 005, IDSA
IDSA is organizing a roundtable on “India’s Engagement with Central Asia: Exploring Future Directions” to celebrate Twenty Years of Friendship and Cooperation between India and Central Asian Republics.
The roundtable aims to initiate a free flowing discussion amongst the scholars, experts, officials and diplomats in order to explore the possibilities of future engagement with the region.
Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, IDSA will chair the proceedings.
Over the past few years, New Delhi has stepped up its engagement with the Central Asian Republics (CARs)—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan—with the aim of building a long-term partnership, both bilaterally and collectively. India has also expressed its desire to play an expanded and more meaningful role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), including its bid for full membership in the organization. India has also been a consistent supporter and active participant of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). (CICA is the only Central Asian forum of which India is a member.) The high-level visits from both sides—Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to Delhi and President Pratibha Patil’s visit to Tajikistan in 2009; Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kazakhstan in 2011; Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s visit to India in May 2011; and the two-day visit by SM Krishna to Tajikistan on 2-3 July 2012—reflect the growing political ties between India and the Central Asian region. New Delhi is now looking forward to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon’s visit to India in September 2012.
The first India-Central Asia Dialogue, a Track-II initiative organized on 12-13 June 2012 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was yet another step towards building a long-term partnership with the Eurasian region. The objective behind this regional conference is to start a regular annual dialogue forum among academics, scholars, government officials and business representatives from India and the CARs, with the aim of providing inputs to governments on both sides. It was during this regional conference that E. Ahmad, Minister of State for External Affairs, pronounced India’s new “Connect Central Asia” Policy. He said: “India is now looking intently at the region through the framework of its ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy, which is based on pro-active political, economic and people-to-people engagement with Central Asian Countries, both individually and collectively.” The “Connect Central Asia” policy is a broad-based approach, which encompasses political, economic and cultural connections between India and the CARs.
Krishna’s visit to Tajikistan is a continuation of India’s new policy approach towards the CARs and its readiness to play a pro-active, meaningful and sustained role in the Eurasian region. He articulated this very clearly in his address to the Heads of Missions conference in Dushanbe where he stated that as the Eurasian region undergoes rapid transition, the time has come for India to evolve a calibrated and co-ordinated response in its engagement with each of the countries in the region to further secure India’s core national interests. As a part of its “Connect Central Asia” policy, India plans to set up an Indian-Central Asia University in Kyrgyzstan and is looking towards deploying its soft power to consolidate goodwill in all Central Asian countries through IT, culture, networking with young politicians and academia. In addition, New Delhi is talking with Tajikistan to set up a military hospital and also plans to operate up to 14 direct flights to Dushanbe. To begin with, both India and Tajikistan will launch four flights each.
The other important area of the “Connect Central Asia” policy is India’s economic ties with the region. While Krishna asked the 11 Indian heads of mission in the region to work on converting India’s “enormous goodwill” into “tangible and strategic advantages”, the current status of India’s trade with these countries, which is pegged at a mere $500 million, indicates the most unsatisfactory part of an otherwise excellent relationship with the region. Connectivity through land and sea routes to Central Asia is still a big challenge. Related to the issue of economic cooperation is the aspect of the relevance of the energy-rich Eurasian region for energy-deficit India. India views Central Asia as a long-term partner in the energy and natural resources trade.
To improve connectivity to the region, India is working on the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) among other options. India and the CARs share common concerns on terrorism, extremism, and drug–trafficking. The current developments in Afghanistan and the proposed western military pullout by 2014 raise serious questions on the stability of the region as a whole. India plans to further strengthen its strategic and security cooperation with all the CARs with a focus on military training, joint research, counter-terrorism coordination and close consultation on Afghanistan within the framework of its “Connect Central Asia” policy.
As India moves ahead with its “Connect Central Asia” policy to cement its relations with the Eurasian region, it is extremely significant to get the Central Asian perspective on India’s role in the region. Equally important would be to debate how India-Central Asia relations can be further strengthened. This Roundtable proposes to discuss current status of the India-Central Asia relationship, its newly pronounced “Connect Central Asia” policy, analyse problem areas, and pave the way for mutually-beneficial future engagement.
Listed below are themes on which the discussions may focus: