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Lok Sabha TV Insights: Prime Minister’s Visit to Central Asia

                                               Lok Sabha TV Insights – PM’s visit of Central Asia

07/07/2015

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Prime Minister yesterday left for Central Asian tour encompassing 6 countries i.e. Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and Russia. During this tour India will touch upon wide array of issues such as culture, security, natural resources and connectivity. Along with bilateral visits are the multilateral summits of BRICS and SCO at Ufa in Russia.

India considers Central Asia as its extended neighborhood, but geographical barriers makes them appear remote than any other country of the world. India as we know has been blocked by Pakistan and China. It depends solely on Iran for any connectivity. There have been sustained negotiations from last few decades’ connectivity and energy supplies, but so far India has not received even a meagre return on Investment. Region’s politics is extremely complex for India. It needs a pragmatic and dynamic personality in seat to break ice with Central Asian leader and that’s what Indian PM will be focusing on. In past, P.V. N. Rao, A.B. Vajpayee and M.M. Singh visited central Asian countries, but it made little difference. It was only J. Nehru who visited all 5 central countries in one visit in 1955 and he had exemplary understanding of culture of the region.

North_South_Transport_Corridor_(NSTC)

Till partition British India had regional (in turn cultural) contiguity with Central Asia, but after about 70 years of minimal contacts, that land appears alien. Central Asians on the other hand have strong nostalgic feeling about India which they still refer to as Hind or Hindustan. People to people contacts are minimal. These countries are having very strict visa regimes so tourism is almost nonexistent. India enjoys ample goodwill of Central Asians. But China with its deep pockets and accessibility has left little space for India. Economies of these countries almost wholly depend upon China and Russia.

China has developed unique understanding with these nations under which it extends loan meant for developing oil and gas sector of a particular Central Asian country and in repayment of that loan China is supplied Oil and Gas for decades. This is a win-win situation as it provides market for Oil and gas exploration companies of China, while it also takes care of its energy starved economy. On Indian side TAPI project is being negotiated, but its success depends upon Pakistan’s cooperation which is unlikely.

Connectivity for trade is another big problem. Current Imports from Central Asia moves all the way to Xinjiang, then to Shanghai and finally arrives at Mumbai, opposite route for exports. Currently trade with Russia happens through St. Petersburg. It’s absurd that trade with our ‘extended neighborhood’ takes longer time and costs than that with any other region of the world. So, India is investing heavily in Chabahar port of Iran which will be extended to Afghanistan through Delaram- Zaranj highway. International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is also being developed. This will be multimodal (sea, road, rail) corridor Linking India (Mumbai), Iran, Central Asia, Russia and Europe.

It should be noted that India’s connectivity with Central Asia depends solely with Iran. Otherwise proactive current government has so far not given any significant impetus to India- Iran relations. It remains to be seen that what transpires after settlement of nuclear deal with Iran.

 

 

Security angle to this visit is of utmost importance. New global threat of ISIS has influenced Central Asia significantly as thousands are participating in conflict on IS’s side. Further, almost every threat to Indian establishment in history has emerged from Central Asia. Stability in Afghanistan is crucial for stability of world and depends much upon Central Asia. This is even truer when Americans are leaving and there is political immaturity and vacuum in Afghanistan.

If history tell us anything, it is that cultural and people to people links are much decisive than financial links. India is poised to loose dollar to dollar contention with China, but culturally people are relatively close to India. It was seen in recent electoral outcomes in Sri Lanka that people resent excess economic dependence on or alignment with a powerful country like China. Public was suspicious about Rajapaksa government’s over reliance on China, so they removed him through ballot. In contrast, if cultural links are established, then government is bypassed and this is an indestructible link.