Saturday, July 2News That Matters

Central Asian outreach

There are several takeaways from the first-ever summit involving India and five Central Asian countries — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The event, held to commemorate 30 years of the establishment of India’s diplomatic relations with these nations, witnessed unanimity on taking cooperation to the next level for boosting regional connectivity and security. The leaders agreed on considerably enhancing India-Central Asia trade, which is only about $2 billion at present, nowhere near China’s over $40 billion. PM Narendra Modi and the five Presidents decided to set up a joint working group on Afghanistan, with a broad consensus emerging on issues such as combating terrorism and drug trafficking.

New Delhi’s Central Asian outreach assumes significance amid China’s efforts to strengthen ties with these nations that are part of the eight-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which also includes India. What gives Beijing a geopolitical edge is the fact that it shares borders with three of the five countries. Two days before the India summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping interacted with Central Asian leaders and announced an assistance of $500 million to support livelihood programmes in these former Soviet bloc countries. He also listed several big projects of strategic importance that had been completed, including the China-Central Asia natural gas pipeline, the China-Kazakhstan crude oil pipeline, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway and the China-Tajikistan expressway. In a bid to counter the Chinese challenge, India has extended a $1-billion line of credit for infrastructure development projects and offered to provide more training slots and scholarships to meet the requirements of Central Asian countries.

New Delhi would have to go the extra mile on the diplomatic and economic fronts to ensure that these countries remain all-weather allies, even as Russia is not averse to making decisive interventions in the region. After the recent unrest in Kazakhstan, Russia sent troops there as part of a peacekeeping mission to restore order, while China firmly backed the beleaguered nation’s efforts to curb violence. India needs to adopt a proactive approach to further its interests and make its presence felt in the extended neighbourhood.

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