Around a month back, India declared that the state heads of the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan would be the chief guest at the Indian Republic day parade. As India and Central Asian states celebrate the 30th anniversary of establishing their diplomatic ties, this declaration marks a significant foreign policy win for India in the resource-rich and strategically located region.
Russia’s discomfort with the Taliban and China
For Russia, Central Asia is its backyard. The emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan has alarmed Moscow. Russia has already positioned its forces in Tajikistan specifically in anticipation of the Taliban threat. Moreover, irrespective of the good relationship between Russia and China, the Russians are believed to be uncomfortable with China vying to become a key player here.
However, the same is not the case with India. On 19th December, the day the India-Central Asia Dialogue concluded, Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned the Indian leadership and gave an assurance to augment Indo-Russian cooperation in Central Asia considering the precarious security situation in Afghanistan. Putin was earlier supposed to call India somewhere at the end of December, but it was preponed after weighing the India-Central Asia dialogue. All these details were made public by The Sunday Guardian.
Further to it, India and Russia also exchanged a whitepaper on increasing the engagement in Central Asia. In addition to several areas, the whitepaper specifically considered joint defence production as its focus. The Indo-Russian joint production could benefit the Central Asia countries as it is proposed to be undertaken at existing Soviet-era ordnance factories across Central Asia.
India-Russia infrastructure push
India and Russia are already collaborating on the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that would connect India to Europe via Russia. Notably, Central Asia and Iran’s Chabahar Port are critical links in this Corridor. INSTC is considered as a counter to China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’
India and Central Asian states
Russia wields vast influence across Central Asia. However, India has developed excellent ties with these countries and great rapport with the leaders.
– Kazakhstan is India’s largest uranium supplier, and the civilian nuclear cooperation between the two countries is deep. India is also supporting landlocked Kazakhstan’s efforts to develop a naval fleet for securing its Caspian Sea front.
– In 2011, Tajikistan was caught in the Chinese debt trap, after which it had to cede 1,000 sq km of territory to China. Incidentally, Tajikistan is where India built its first overseas military base. Tajikistan borders Afghanistan, China and is separated from Pakistan by a small strip of Afghan land called the Wakhan Corridor. Thus, the Indian Air Force base at Farkhor occupies a highly strategically position in Central Asia.
– India and Uzbekistan have historical ties dating back to the Silk Road times. In recent years, both nations have been keenly engaging each other to increase economic, military, and geopolitical cooperation and further widen the ties.
– Kyrgyzstan has traditionally supported the Indian stand on Jammu & Kashmir. Kyrgyzstan also supports India’s bid for a UNSC permanent seat and for full membership at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
With the deepening of ties between India and Central Asian nations and Russia seemingly ready to team up with India, resource-rich and strategically located Central Asia presents itself as a land of mutual opportunities for India, Russia, and this region’s nations.