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Current Affairs: India-Central Asia Virtual Summit

India-Central Asia Virtual Summit

Context:

Prime Minister hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit in virtual format, which was attended by Presidents of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Foreign policy, Foreign Policies, Treaties and Agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the summit
  2. Three main objectives of the Summit
  3. About Central Asia
  4. What is the genesis of India-Central Asia relations?
  5. What are India’s strategic interests in Central Asia?
  6. Recent ties between India and Central Asian countries

Highlights of the summit:

  • This first India-Central Asia coincided with the 30th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Central Asian countries.
  • During the Summit, Prime Minister and the Central Asian Leaders discussed the next steps in taking India-Central Asia relations to new heights.
  • The Leaders agreed to institutionalize the Summit mechanism by deciding to hold it every 2 years.
  • They also agreed on regular meetings of Foreign Ministers, Trade Ministers, Culture Ministers and Secretaries of the Security Council to prepare the groundwork for the Summit meetings.
  • An India-Central Asia Secretariat in New Delhi would be set up to support the new mechanism.
  • The Leaders discussed far-reaching proposals to further cooperation in areas of trade and connectivity, development cooperation, defence and security and, in particular, on cultural and people to people contacts. These included a Round-Table on Energy and Connectivity; Joint Working Groups at senior official level on Afghanistan and use of Chabahar Port; showcasing of Buddhist exhibitions in Central Asian countries and commissioning of an India-Central Asia dictionary of common words, joint counter-terrorism exercises, visit of 100 member youth delegation annually from Central Asian countries to India and special courses for Central Asian diplomats.
  • They also discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan with the Central Asian leaders.
  • The leaders reiterated their strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan with a truly representative and inclusive government.
  • Prime Minister conveyed India’s continued commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people.
  •  A comprehensive Joint Declaration was adopted by the leaders that enumerates their common vision for an enduring and comprehensive India-Central Asia partnership

Three main objectives of the Summit:

  • To make it clear that cooperation between India and Central Asia is essential for regional security and prosperity.
  • To give an effective structure to our cooperation. This will establish a framework of regular interactions at different levels and among various stakeholders.
  • To create an ambitious roadmap for our cooperation.

About Central Asia

  • Central Asia is the central region of Asia, extending from the Caspian Sea in the west to the border of western China in the east.
  • It is bounded on the north by Russia and on the south by Iran, Afghanistan, and China.
  • The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.
  • All of these nations became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR.
  • On the east and south Central Asia is bounded by the western Altai and other high mountain ranges extending into Iran, Afghanistan, and western China.
  • Central Asia’s landscape can be divided into the vast grassy steppes of Kazakhstan in the north and the Aral Sea drainage basin in the south. About 60 percent of the region consists of desert land, the principal deserts being the Karakum, occupying most of Turkmenistan, and the Kyzylkum, covering much of western Uzbekistan.
  • The scarcity of water has led to a very uneven population distribution, with most people living along the fertile banks of the rivers or in fertile mountain foothills in the southeast; comparatively few live in the vast arid expanses of central and western Kazakhstan and western Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
  • The five largest ethnic groups in Central Asia are, in descending order of size, the Uzbek, Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz.

What is the genesis of India-Central Asia relations?

  • India’s relations with the Central Asian countries can be traced back to the ancient Silk Road, along which people, goods and ideas flowed.
  • During the period of the Kushan Empire, which spanned across the territories of modern Central Asia and India, the people-to-people contact, cultural and economic ties were flourishing.
  • The dissolution of the ancient Silk Road, the invasion of Central Asia by Russia and China and the Anglo-Russian rivalry has limited the exchanges between India and Central Asia.
  • Immediately after independence, India maintained limited ties with Central Asian countries because of the former’s excessive focus on the immediate neighbourhood, major powers in the international arena and other Afro-Asian countries.
  • This may be because of the lack of shared boundaries.
  • Following the USSR dissolution, the five Central Asian countries gained independence and India started to improve ties with them.
  • India was the only non-communist country with a diplomatic presence in the region.
  • It was also one of the first to accord diplomatic recognition to the newly independent countries.
  • Immediately after the formation of the Central Asian states, New Delhi signed agreements focusing on expanding Indian trade, investment and developmental assistance.
  • At present, Central Asia is considered to be a part of India’s extended neighbourhood.

What are India’s strategic interests in Central Asia?

  • Central Asia sits at the heart of Eurasia, making it strategically vital for countries like the US, China, Russia, Europe and India.
  • This is because it serves as a pivot for geopolitical transformations within the international arena.
  • Many countries are currently competing to increase influence and power over the region.
  • Through this region, countries like India and China can expand their markets throughout Eurasia.
  • Apart from its geostrategic position, Central Asia has been rich with natural resources – Turkmenistan with gas, Kazakhstan with gas and uranium, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with hydropower.
  • With a population of 33 million in the 1990s, this region is potentially a large market.

Recent ties between India and Central Asian countries

  • In Kyrgyzstan, the External Affairs Minister extended a credit line of $200 million for the support of development projects and signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on High-Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP).
  • In Kazakhstan, the External Affairs Minister attended the 6th Foreign Ministers’ Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). At CICA, he targeted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Admonishing China’s methods in promoting the BRI, he said while greater connectivity was essential for the promotion of regional stability, it must not be pursued for parochial interests. He also confronted Pakistan for its support towards cross-border terrorism.
  • 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. However, India’s efforts were stonewalled by Pakistan’s lack of willingness to allow India passage through its territory. China took advantage of the situation and unveiled the much-hyped BRI in Kazakhstan.
  • Mr. Jaishankar has become the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit Armenia. The two countries agreed to enhance trade and cultural exchanges to boost bilateral relations. India also supported efforts for a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk group.

-Source: The Hindu, PIB, Indian Express

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