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Manu Dev Jain asked: What is the importance of each of the five Central Asian countries for India?

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  • Rajorshi Roy replies: India and Central Asian Republics (CARs) - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan - share deep civilisational ties. However, the importance of Central Asia for India is not merely cultural and historical. Being at the centre of the vast Eurasian land mass, one can always refer to Mackinder’s ‘Heartland Theory’ that dwelt upon the geopolitical importance of the Eurasian heartland, bounded by Volga in the west and Yangtze River in the east, and the Himalayas in the south and the Arctic Ocean in the north. Central Asia serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, and is very rich in natural resources. It is, thus, geopolitically axial and economically offers a whole range of opportunities. However, due to lack of direct geographical connectivity, India along with other partner countries in the region is working on the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), among other options.

    In order to provide a fresh impetus to India’s ties with the CARs, the first India-Central Asia Dialogue, a Track-II initiative, was organised in Bishkek in June 2012. It was a significant step towards building a long-term partnership with the region. It was during this regional conference that the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed pronounced India’s new “Connect Central Asia” Policy. It is a broad-based approach, which encompasses political, economic and cultural cooperation between India and the CARs.

    India and the CARs also share common concerns on the issue of rising threat from terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. The re-emergence of threat from the Taliban-Haqqani network in Afghanistan, the proposed Western military pullout by 2014, and growing religious radicalisation and sectarian violence within Pakistan, has raised serious questions about the stability of the region as a whole. India thus plans to further strengthen its cooperation with the CARs, especially on the counter-terrorism issue, within the framework of its “Connect Central Asia” policy.

    At a more specific level, the five CARs are important to India due to some of the following factors:

    Tajikistan’s importance for India lies in its geo-strategic location. While it shares borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, it is also located in proximity to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Moreover, developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan have serious security implications for both India and Tajikistan. In addition to its strategic location, Tajikistan is rich in hydroelectric power and has the largest natural water resources in the region. Tajikistan also has rich mineral deposits. India and Tajikistan cooperate over a wide spectrum of issues - political, economic, health, human resource development, defence, counter-terrorism, science and technology, culture and tourism. Tajik military cadets and young officers have also been attending military training institutions in India.

    Kazakhstan’s importance for India needs to be viewed in the context of developments in and around Central Asia, India’s growing energy needs, Kazakhstan’s increasing role in the region and its immense hydrocarbon reserves. The two countries cooperate in various sectors like hydrocarbon, civil nuclear energy, space, information technology and cyber security, pharmaceuticals, health care, agriculture, and cultural exchange programmes.

    The importance of Turkmenistan for India lies in its enormous gas reserves, transit potential and geo-strategic location. India’s rising energy demand and the fact that it imports 70 per cent of its oil requirements, which is likely to go up to 90 per cent by 2025, has made Turkmenistan an attractive destination for India and in this context the TAPI gas pipeline is of great significance. Turkmenistan can also serve as a gateway to Central Asia through Iran. From India’s point of view, the North–South Corridor would not only help India in reaching out to Central Asia, but also enable it to transport goods at a cheaper cost to the European markets.

    Uzbekistan has been appreciative of India’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and supports India’s candidature for full membership in the SCO and UNSC. The two countries cooperate in diverse sectors, ranging from coal gasification, oil and gas, banking, pharmaceuticals, textiles, science and technology, standardisation, small and medium enterprises and tourism. There are more than sixty Indian companies operating in the country. Economic reconstruction projects and cooperation on counter-terrorism, in the backdrop of withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014, have been given priority in India-Uzbekistan ties.

    The visit of Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony to Bishkek in July 2011 has given a new impetus to the India-Kyrgyzstan ties. India has offered assistance to Kyrgyzstan in various areas. This includes sending a team to train Kyrgyz armed forces in UN peacekeeping operations and imparting English language skills. India and Kyrgyzstan have also signed MoUs for cooperation in research and development in high altitude base agriculture, plantation, animal husbandry, poultry, education, sports, culture, IT, health, S&T and food processing.