3rd India-Central Asia Dialogue

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    • Recently, India and five Central Asian countries called for immediate humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan at the 3rd meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue. 
      • This dialogue saw participation from Foreign Ministers of India, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

    Major Points 

    • Restoration of peace in Afghanistan:
      • India  and five Asian countries battled for restoration of peace in Afghanistan.
        • They underlined the need for respecting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the war-torn country
          • They reaffirmed the importance of UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021), which demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts.
    • Strengthening mutual cooperation:
    • They stressed the importance of making concerted efforts to achieve the full potential for trade, especially in sectors like pharmaceuticals, information technology, agriculture, energy, textiles, gems and jewellery etc
    • The sides also expressed their desire to deepen cooperation in the healthcare sector, including medical tourism. 
      • They also showed support for the restoration of tourism, business ties post the Covid pandemic.
    • International North-South Transport Corridor:
      • Emphasis on optimum usage of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) as well as Ashgabat Agreement on International Transport and Transit Corridor to enhance connectivity between India and the Central Asian countries.
      • Stressed on including Chabahar Port within the framework of INSTC and expressed interest in cooperation on issues related to the development and strengthening of regional connectivity in Central and South Asia.
      • Agreed to develop the transit and transport potential of their countries, improve the regional logistics network and promote joint initiatives to create new transport corridors.
    • India’s Response: 
      • India is committed to taking its ties with Central Asia to the next level and floated a ‘four C’ approach focusing on commerce, capacity enhancement, connectivity and contacts to further expand the cooperation between the two sides

    Importance of Central Asia for India 

    • Since the emergence of the Central Asian Republics as independent countries in the early 1990s, India has been trying to establish contacts with those countries and boost trade opportunities. 
      • Since 2012, India has engaged actively with the five Central Asian countries in its “extended neighbourhood.

    • Central Asia for India serves as a land bridge between Asia and Europe and is rich in natural resources. 
    • It is seen as fuel-rich and, hence, important for an energy-starved India and they are also mineral-rich.

    • The importance of CARs also lies in ensuring peace and stability in the region. 

    • Areas of Cooperation: There is the potential to collaborate in a variety of areas—from construction, sericulture and pharmaceuticals to IT and tourism. 
      • There is huge scope for collaboration in areas like building (power) transmission lines and contract farming.
    • India’s full membership into the SCO now opens up an opportunity for a closer engagement with the region.
    • India provided financial aid to the region and established diplomatic relations. New Delhi signed the Strategic Partnership Agreements (SPA) with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to stimulate defence cooperation and deepen trade relations.
    •  In 2012, New Delhi’s ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy aimed at furthering India’s political, economic, historical and cultural connections with the region.
    • Trade: India’s trade with the five Central Asian Republics—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—was below $ 2 billion in 2018. 
    • Cultural connect
      • There is a cultural connection. (Bollywood stars like) Raj Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty are famous in these countries.
    • Routes to Central Asia
      • International North-South (Transit) Corridor (INSTC): In 2000, India, Iran and Russia agreed on a new route for trade that later came to be known as INSTC. 
        • It was aimed at cutting the costs and time in moving cargo between Russia and India. 
        • The pact was ratified in 2002 and Over the years, more countries joined the INSTC; the 7,200-kilometre multi-modal project with thousands of kilometres of all-weather highways now include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and Europe as offshoots of the original plan.
      • Chabahar port: In 2003, India and Iran announced the development of the Chabahar port. 
        • Once Chabahar was complete, this would serve as an alternate route to Central Asia.
    • In 2018, India joined the Ashgabat agreement that “would diversify India’s connectivity options with Central Asia.
      • The pact was signed in 2011 by Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Oman and Qatar and aimed at developing the shortest trade route between the Central Asian republics and Iranian and Omani ports.
    • TAPI gas pipeline :  
      • TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) seeks to connect an energy-rich Central to South Asia, which will be possible only if there is peace in Afghanistan.

    Challenges 

    • Geographic non-accessibility: India’s major limitation in this strategically important region is geographic non-accessibility. India does not share borders with the CARs.

    • Lack of mutual trust: Land-locked Central Asian countries can benefit immensely by connecting with India’s vast market. 

      • Unfortunately, many connectivity options are not open to them due to the lack of mutual trust. 

    • Tensions with Pakistan and China 
      • India’s  tensions with Pakistan mean there is no viable land route towards Central Asia.
        • Pakistan’s obstructionist attitude has played a big role in keeping India out of Central Asia.
        • Given its close ties with China, Pakistan would likely push Afghanistan to join connectivity projects initiated by Beijing and not New Delhi.
        • China took advantage and unveiled BRI in Kazakhstan.
          • Beijing has made considerable inroads into the region, boosting trade and co-opting Central Asian states into its Belt and Road Initiative.
    • Instability in Afghanistan 
      • The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has severely set back India’s plans in Central Asia.
    • Repeated US sanctions on Iran for its suspected nuclear programme meant that Indian firms were reluctant to participate in the projects, leading to cost and time overruns. It was only after the Iran-US nuclear deal in 2015 that there was some movement on the Chabahar project
    • But the Donald Trump-led administration’s pullout from the nuclear pact in 2018 cast a fresh shadow over Chabahar. 

    Way Forward

    • Central Asian countries have been keen to have India as a partner as they have sought to diversify their strategic ties. 
      • Rising anti-Chinese sentiments within the region and security threats from the Taliban allow New Delhi and Central Asia to reimagine their engagement. 
    • India needs to develop stronger bonds of trade and commercial bonds .
    • The INSTC is of utmost importance for Indian exporters as it offers a safe and cost-effective route to the EU (European Union) market.” “It additionally offers almost 50% time saving, which is extremely vital in today’s business (environment). 

    Source: IE