India Reworking Its Strategy towards Central Asia through New ‘Connect Central Asia Policy: Ajay Bisaria

July 10, 2012

New Delhi: India is reworking its Strategy towards Central Asia with the aim to impart its greater strategic content, said Mr Ajay Bisaria, Joint Secretary Eurasia Division. Mr Bisaria was speaking at a round table on ‘India's Engagement with Central Asia: Exploring Future Directions’ to celebrate Twenty Years of Friendship and Cooperation between India and Central Asian Republics, organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on July 10, 2012.

Outlining the details of India’s new ‘Connect Central Asia’ Policy, Mr Ajay Bisaria highlighted the key elements of this policy, which will focus on certain flagship projects, including the establishment of Central Asian University at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Connecting Central Asia through an E Network in telemedicine and other critical areas of commercial activities, opening up of hospitals, centres of excellence in IT, CICA and improving air connectivity. He further stressed upon the need to continue with the current defence and Strategic partnership through training and joint research between India and the Central Asian Republics (CARs).

Speaking at the round table Mr Bisaria informed that about Civil Aviation Ministry’s decision to initiate up to 14 direct flights between India and the five Central Asian countries to give a boost to tourism, trade and commerce. India wants to seek a long term profitable partnership with Central Asia, concluded Mr Bisaria.

Also speaking on the occasion was Ambassador HE, Mrs. Irina A Orolbaeva, of Kyrgyzstan who, while lauding the close historical and cultural links between the two countries, urged India to play a bigger role in developing Kyrgyzstan’s mining, agriculture, hydro power, IT and educational sectors. Mrs Orolbaeva further emphasised on the need for the youth of the two nations to connect with each other through greater interaction and by resuming cultural and educational contacts.

She particularly appreciated India’s contribution in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) projects.

Ambassador His Excellency Mr. Doulat Kuanyshev of Kazakhstan also observed that India’s soft power initiative was encouraging and felt that India had many opportunities to explore in his country. Commenting on India’s news Central Asia Policy he hoped that this policy would be implemented successfully in future. On economic engagement he recommended to bridge the information gap among the business communities on both sides. He said that India needs to play a greater role in the region.

Mr Kuanyshev reiterated his country’s support towards India’s position in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), its initiatives in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and felt that the CICA could not succeed without India’s support.

He also urged India’s big corporate houses to set up base in Kazakhstan to tap the energy potential in his country. He supported India’s initiatives of INSTC.

Also speaking on the occasion was Ambassador Saidov Saidbeg Boykhonovich of Tajikistan, who emphasised upon consolidating security and defence cooperation. The opportunities for India in his country included joint ventures in hydro power, science and technology, agriculture, tourism, education, development of labour skills. He also aired his views on exploring new land routes around the Karakoram Highway regions.

Earlier, Director General, IDSA Dr Arvind Gupta, who chaired the proceedings, emphasised upon the need for giving a strategic content to the partnership between India and CARs, greater interaction between the youth, establishment of Central Asia University, relaxation of Visa rules, greater engagement at the multilateral level, need for a high level dialogue for regional stability and peace and more emphasis on track 1.5 and track 2 levels of engagement.

The Round table aimed at initiating a free flowing discussion amongst the scholars, experts, officials and diplomats in order to explore the possibilities of future engagement with the region.

Over the past few years, New Delhi has stepped up its engagement with the Central Asian Republics (CARs)—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan—with the aim of building a long-term partnership, both bilaterally and collectively. India has also expressed its desire to play an expanded and more meaningful role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), including its bid for full membership in the organization. The country has also been a consistent supporter and active participant of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).

The first India-Central Asia Dialogue, a Track-II initiative organized on 12-13 June 2012 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was yet another step towards building a long-term partnership with the Eurasian region. The objective behind this regional conference is to start a regular annual dialogue forum among academics, scholars, government officials and business representatives from India and the CARs, with the aim of providing inputs to governments on both sides. It was during this regional conference that Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr E. Ahmad, pronounced India’s new “Connect Central Asia” Policy.

As a part of its “Connect Central Asia” policy, India plans to set up an Indian-Central Asia University in Kyrgyzstan and is looking towards deploying its soft power to consolidate goodwill in all Central Asian countries through IT, culture, networking with young politicians and academia. In addition, New Delhi is talking with Tajikistan to set up a military hospital and also plans to operate up to 14 direct flights to Dushanbe. To begin with, both India and Tajikistan will launch four flights each. The other important area of the “Connect Central Asia” policy is India’s economic ties with the region.

Related to the issue of economic cooperation is the aspect of the relevance of the energy-rich Eurasian region for energy-deficit India. India views Central Asia as a long-term partner in the energy and natural resources trade.

To improve connectivity to the region, India is working on the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) among other options. India and the CARs share common concerns on terrorism, extremism, and drug–trafficking. The current developments in Afghanistan and the proposed western military pullout by 2014 raise serious questions on the stability of the region as a whole. India plans to further strengthen its strategic and security cooperation with all the CARs with a focus on military training, joint research, counter-terrorism coordination and close consultation on Afghanistan within the framework of its “Connect Central Asia” policy.