India restores historic ties with Central Asian countries under PM Modi

By Heena Joshi Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has brought attention back to Central Asia after 30 years of neglecting this landlocked, resource-rich region that shares cultural and historical ties with India, said the former envoy to Kazakhstan, Ashok Sajjanhar.

Speaking to ANI, former envoy to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, Ashok Sajjanhar pointed out that since their emergence as independent states after the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the India could have done more in terms of strengthening ties with the Central Asian nations. “India could have done more in terms of its ties with Central Asian countries. It goes without saying. From 1995 to 2015, we only had four visits from the Prime Minister of India. In 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2011,” Sajjanhar said during the sporadic attention given to the region by Indian leaders for decades.

However, the diplomat expressed confidence in India’s current advances in expanding its strategic depth in Central Asia. “Now we are trying to make up for lost time through a lot of initiatives such as the India-Central Asia Dialogue which was launched in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in 2019. We also had the meeting last year of NSA of the region and then we had the first India-Central Asia Summit, so we are paying a lot of attention to this region now.” In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit all five Central Asian states – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – during a single trip. We have made a number of advances that have taken place in our relations with Uzbekistan and some of the other countries. Things are moving forward. We have to keep up the pace and even pick it up,” he added.

He also pointed out that India may not have the same clout as China when it comes to trade, but it has a lot of strengths in terms of historical and civilizational ties with these countries. “India’s annual trade with the region is about $2 billion while China’s trade with the region is over $40 billion. But the reason is that we don’t share not geographical borders. However, we have a lot of assets in terms of our historical and civilizational ties with these countries and we really need to exploit and build on them.”

Asked about China’s growing influence in Central Asia, Envoy Sajjanhar said: “While India lost interest, China made huge strides across Central Asia. In 2009, the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline was put into operation. It crosses Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. oil comes from Kazakhstan to China. Also, the Belt and Road Initiative goes through Kazakhstan to Europe, etc.” However, he said, “China does not share the same strengths as India vis-a-vis to Central Asia because there is fear and a lack of trust in China, aspects that cannot be attributed to India. There is much more trust and confidence and interpersonal contact between Indians and the Central Asian peoples of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. India has expertise in a lot of areas and we can really use it for mutual benefit as well as for our own partnership relationship with these countries.

“With regard to connectivity, we have focused on Chabahar Port and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and we have seen that there has been significant progress on these two fronts in recent years. years”. One of the other points the envoy elucidated is why the port of Chabahar has not been able to make so much progress. Chabahar Port has not been able to make as much progress as it could have because the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran nuclear deal was withdrawn by the United States, he said. he noted.

While talking about the connectivity issues, the envoy at the same time expressed his confidence in the measures being taken to boost trade through the INSTC and underlined, “I think he has caught up. We saw the first shipment from Russia via INSTC to India and there were shipments from Chabahar port to Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover.” Speaking further, he said that it is not only trade and connectivity, but also strategic considerations, that Uzbekistan and this whole region of Central Asia have become very important after the Taliban took over Afghanistan last year. he importance of this region has further increased as far as India is concerned, he said.

The envoy also explained how the importance and relevance of Central Asia for China has increased very significantly, especially after the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. “Previously, China sent all its goods, exports to Europe via Russia. However, after Russia was hit with very strict sanctions, this is no longer possible. Exports via Central Asia have therefore increased in recent months.

The other aspect, Envoy Sajjanhar said, is the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway line which has not been able to take off since it was discussed many years ago. Sajjanhar said that Russia is against the CKU railway line because it knows that if the railway line comes into operation, it will have a very negative impact on China’s goods exports to Europe via the Russia. However, keeping in mind Russia’s stance amid Western sanctions, there is an agreement that construction of CKU will start next year, he added.

Back in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin is working to recreate Russia’s influence in a region Russians call “the near abroad” – the five nations of Central Asia. It may be in Putin’s interest to diminish China’s power in the region as well. “Central Asian countries say they will continue to follow their multi-vector foreign policy and will not recognize the independence of the Lugansk People’s Republic or the Donestk People’s Republic. They will not oppose Western sanctions and will respect Western sanctions. And we also saw how these countries voted at the UNGA on discussions on the conflict in Ukraine.”

The envoy said that for all these reasons, “Russia is very keen not to allow these countries to stray too far from it.” On the importance of Pakistan in Central Asia, the envoy said that the country has not really come for much in this region, neither in terms of trade, nor in terms of defense, military or strategic cooperation.

“Although Pakistan shares a border with Tajikistan through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, it has still not been able to leverage this to strengthen its relations. The only factor on the basis of which it structures its relations with Central Asia is Islam and it doesn’t take. it’s too far.” “All of these countries are landlocked, but I haven’t seen any great desire for any of these countries to use the warm waters of the Indian Ocean via Karachi and send their goods via Pakistan, so Pakistan, I don’t I don’t think that’s an important factor when it comes to Central Asia.

Central Asian nations will never tell, but they definitely feel that terrorism, drug trafficking, etc. are aspects to be taken into consideration and that is also why Pakistan has not been able to advance its relations with these countries. He also spoke about the impact of Pakistan’s illegal occupation of Kashmir on India’s trade with Central Asia. “If Pakistan occupied Kashmir had been with India, we would have bordered with Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, we could have reached Tajikistan and the other countries, but unfortunately that is not the case.”

Additionally, Envoy Sajjanhar noted that the United States has always looked at the Central Asia region through the lens of Afghanistan “Now they have left Afghanistan, so in that sense the importance , the influence of Central Asia for the United States has diminished considerably, but at the strategic and political level, the United States has not really invested much effort or much political capital to advance their relations with Central Asia. “I think right now he’s maybe doing a bit more. He doesn’t want the region to be totally captured by China and Russia. So he’s trying to maintain his presence but I don’t think that’s going to happen. be for the right time. . He needs to be much more proactive.” (ANI)

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)