New Delhi is not doing enough to strengthen relations with Central Asian countries, even as they are keen to enhance ties with India, experts tell FE Online. Lack of interest is holding back India in strengthening ties with the Central Asian countries, which can help New Delhi in balancing relations with China.
“There has been lack of interest and what has been built earlier nothing has moved forward, there is inertia is holding them back. They forget if Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan had not chipped in, the nuclear reactors would not have taken off.” These were two major countries from the region who are exporting Uranium to India said one Indian representative who has worked in the region.
Another ambassador said India has not improved air links with these countries. “We have to remember that five countries from the region have air links with India, but we have not built on such initiatives,” said Rajiv Dogra, former diplomat. “Eurasia has always been celebrated as Centre of Earth. The region rich in natural resources and important strategically, especially in the fight against terrorism,” Dogra added.
It may be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July this year had visited five Central Asian countries —Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. China has already built a strong presence in Central Asia.
Sharing his views on the importance of the region and the recently concluded visit of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, of Uzbekistan, former ambassador Anil Trigunayat, said, “Central Asia is a strategic region for India. Since their independence India has been constantly expanded relations in bilateral and multilateral formats. Most recent being India’s membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).”
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, or Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance.
According to Trigunayat, “This was the first State visit of new Uzbek President to India. Both countries are strategic partners and is important for India’s security, connectivity and counter terrorism efforts. The visit provided an opportunity to yet again exchange views on global developments and bilateral cooperation targets though strengthening of institutional mechanisms.”
Both India and Uzbekistan have announced that they will jointly work together and strive for a stable, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan, which will be beneficial for the interests of the region.
Said Dr Rajan Kumar, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, JNU: “These CIS countries are very important to India, especially in view of the growing Chinese interest in the region. Uzbekistan is militarily very strong and is therefore very important from the security point of view for India. We should not forget that Uzbekistan is a key player in the region.”
“The Central Asian nation has been well aware of India for a long time as a country with a rich history and unique culture, and are bound by the centuries-old cultural and trade-economic relations,” he added.
According to experts, in the constantly changing situation in the world, geopolitical competition in the global and regional levels, both India and Central Asian countries need each other.
“Central Asian nations and India can play effectively role in bringing normalcy in Afghanistan. Both India and Uzbekistan can play a major role in Afghanistan which is critical to both sides,” Rajan added.
Uzbekistan has large reserves of gas, uranium and gold and is a potential leader in Central Asia, but has difficult relations with its neighbours, namely Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan on water issues, and Kazakhstan to become the pre-eminent power in the region.