India;s initiative in central and south Asia: problems and prospects*

India’s major interests in Central Asia are: (a) stabilization and strengthening of democratic dispensation in Central Asia (b) hydrocarbon energy requirements (c) containment of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, (d) extension of technical and industrial cooperation with the Central Asian Republic in order to cement bilateral and multilateral relations and (e) regional security. 

Indian’s major difficulty in forging closer and more vibrant relations with Central Asia and to promote her aforesaid interests is the absence of overland connectivity. With Pakistan a hostile neighbour and Afghanistan embroiled in religious extremist primacy, India is unable to have the overland access to Central Asian Republics. The possibility of establishing friendly relations with Pakistan, and Afghanistan returning to the status of a moderate Islamic State, both seem to be remote. Therefore we cannot expect any early breakthrough in this logjam. Withdrawal of NATO and US forces from Afghanistan in 2014 could further complicate India’s effort to secure overland access to the region.

At present India has got access to the Central Asian region through Bandar Ababs-Sirakhs rail link in Iran. But this transit route has two main problems. One is of transshipment at Bandar Abbas and then at Sirakhs on Iran-Turkmenistan border. This increases cost of transportation of good besides double taxation causing longer delays.

The second difficulty in this link is the vacillating behaviour of Iranian government. They are trying to impose new regulatory regime that makes transshipment both costlier and more complicated. Therefore this link may be a via media but cannot become a permanent and dependable link.

Despite the India envisages a role in Afghan reconstruction as well as a partner in economic reconstruction of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.

India promotes movement of CARs towards democratic dispensation and democratization of institutions. Parliamentary delegations are exchanged, embassies are established and regular exchange of ideas on political scenario is taking place.

In regard to hydrocarbon resources, India has extended good support to Kazakhstan for exploration and exploitation of oil at Tengiz and some gas. India has stake in Kazakh oil because she is energy hungry. Likewise India has agreed to be partner in TAPI gas pipeline. This project has gone through many hiccups but it seems things are now taking right course. India can also think of importing electricity from Tajikistan.In regard to containment of radicalism and terrorism, India as an observer at Shanghai Cooperation has committed along with other partners to fight terrorism, separatism and fundamentalism, which are dogging at least two CARs namely Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.In regard to technical cooperation India has offered a host of areas to the CARs in which India would be prepared to collaborate in mega projects. Rail, construction, bridge building, hotel building, banking and other areas are undertaken.

In regard to South Asia, India has many interests and security of the Indian Ocean is supreme. That is why India wants a strong navy to defend her coastline. She is trying to build economic cooperation with Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. She has invested millions of dollars on Afghanistan as well as in Nepal. India’s security concerns in SA are China centric as well as Pakistan Centric. The new security scenario has developed in Pakistan’s Northern Areas meaning Gilgit and Baltistan. India wants mending fence with China and solving border dispute through a bilateral dialogue. India is aware of China-Pakistan nexus and creeping Chinese strategy along the brooder in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.In term of trade and technical cooperation India is offering considerable support to SAARC countries. India wants that democracy should get stabilized in the SAARC countries. It is to her advantage as it is a surety for good trade and commerce relations.

Dr. Tabasum Firdous

Sr. Assistant Professor, Center of Central Asia Studies, University of Kashmir, India

Honorary Member of IRSEA. The content does not represent the opinion of IRSEA