CENTRAL ASIA: HIGHLIGHTS OF 2012
Minister of State for External Affairs, E. Ahamed, in a key note address at the 1st meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue, in June 2012 in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) discussed about fast-tracking India’s relations with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) (Das, 2012). According to Ahamed, the Connect Central Asia Policy, which was discussed in this meeting, entails certain key points: first, continuing to build on strong political relations through the exchange of high level visits; second, strengthening strategic and security cooperation including counter-terror cooperation; third, stepping up multilateral engagement with Central Asian partners using the synergy of joint efforts through existing fora like the SCO and the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC); fourth, looking at Central Asia as a long term partner in energy, and natural resources, fifth, extending cooperation in the medical field, an area that offers huge potential for cooperation; lastly, assisting the set up of a Central Asian University in Bishkek that could come up as a centre of excellence to impart world class education in areas like IT, management, philosophy and languages (Parashar, 2012). This policy also contributes to the development of a cross-regional energy infrastructure and e-network with a hub in the IT-savvy India (Muzalevsky, 2012). In totality, the ‘connect Central Asia’ policy is a broad-based approach, which includes political, economic and cultural connections between India and the CARs (Roy, 2012).
The CAR, also known as the underbelly of Eurasia, has always been of geostrategic importance, lying on the old silk route, which connects South Asia and China to West Asia and Europe. From a security perspective the five countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, are extremely vital to a country like India. India and Uzbekistan have always been strongly connected on the economic, social and political front. As stated by Muraleedhar Babu, Charge d`Affaires of the Republic of India , “Both India and Uzbekistan have similar views on bilateral, regional and global issues and are committed to work together for economic development of the countries and promotion of international peace”. Thus, India-Uzbek relations are seen to grow stronger in the coming years (The Government Portal of the Republic of Uzbekistan, 2011). As far as Turkmenistan is concerned, Mr. Jaipal Reddy paid an official visit to Turkmenistan for discussing further avenues for energy cooperation. Turkmenistan has the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, including the world’s second largest South Yolotan gas field along with having substantial reserves of crude oil. It is because of this reason that Turkmenistan relations are important for India’s energy secutiry (Ministry of External Affairs, 2012).
As negotiations for the withdrawal of international security forces in Afghanistan by 2014 gather pace, India has decided to revive its only overseas military base in Farkhor, Tajikistan (Malhotra, 2012). Of all the CARs, this one is the most important, to undertake strategic talks on the defence front due to this reason. India’s external affairs minister, S.M Krishna, paid an official visit in July 2012 to discuss India-Tajik bilateral relations. Political, economic and people-to-people relations were highlighted during his discussions. Tajikistan has worked closely with India along with Russia and Iran in supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime earlier. There is already a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism between India and Tajikistan and to further cooperation on several fronts, with Tajikistan and the other CARs, the Connect Central Asia Policy takes a forward stand.
Indeed, through the Connect Central Asia policy, India seeks to fortify cooperation with regional countries in areas such as counter-terrorism, military training, research, and development.