Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Engagement with the Central Asian Republics: An Appraisal

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India's Engagement with the Central Asian Republics: An Appraisal

Article excerpt

The present century is witnessing several geopolitical shifts in the Eurasian region. These strategic shifts began with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, followed a decade later by the beginning of the war on terror and the Western military presence in Afghanistan in 2001. Subsequently, the coalition troops withdrew by the end of 2014. These fundamental changes had a huge geopolitical impact on the Central Asian region. The resultant dynamics are best understood within the framework of a geopolitical theory propounded by well-known British geographer, Halford MacKinder. According to his theory of the 'Heartlands of Eurasia' and the 'Pivot of History', whoever controls Eurasia will control the world. The Pivot of History generally refers to Central Asia. The geopolitical location of Central Asia in the middle of Eurasia, and flanking two huge potential land powers - the Russian Federation in the north and the Peoples Republic of China located on its eastern periphery - has attracted world attention. What has added to Central Asia's importance is its enormous wealth of natural resources and vital minerals. As a consequence, Central Asia has been caught in the vortex of competitive international politics, with major and regional powers vying with each other to establish their presence and build leverages with the Central Asian space. An equally important factor complicating the Central Asian scenario is the rise of non-traditional threats in large measure in the common neighbourhood of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Consequently, Central Asia has emerged as a region of geostrategic and geo economic significance. Russia and China are involved with Central Asia. Both have initiated their respective integrationist projects: Russia has launched the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in 2003 and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2011, while China is vigorously pursuing its overland connectivity project, the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) since 2013. For both projects, Central Asia is the key pillar. How the interaction of the two projects will be played out is unclear at present. Whether this is a new version of the nineteenth century Great Game, as some observers and analysts opine, needs to be analysed further. Nonetheless, Central Asia is at the centre of the unfolding competition.

The defining feature of Central Asia is its landlocked status; its southern periphery Afghanistan is also landlocked. Hence the Central Asian Republics (CARs) constitute one geopolitical space. The CARs are still in the midst of their transition process: a transition from the socialist order to a liberal, democratic, secular, modern, and a free market economy. This is a gigantic task indeed, in the absence of expertise and experience. Nevertheless,with over twenty years of independence, the CARs have evolved into distinct nationStates with their own national characteristics. Each Republic is building its new order based on traditions, national ethos, and value system. Today, the CARs cannot be referred to as the 'five stans' of Central Asia. The most prominent feature of CARsis the deep ethnic discord that divides them. All are multi-ethnic and pluralist states, and have yet to manage this vast diversity. However, what binds them together is their common objective of establishing security and stability in the region.

Over the years, India has developed deep and abiding strategic and economic interests in Central Asia. However, India's policy has had to work its way through a complex geopolitics in the region. Despite the fund of goodwill towards each other, India's policy towards CARS has lacked vigour and robustness for nearly a decade; it has been a minimal policy at best. By the turn of the century, fundamental changes occurred in India's strategic thinking impacting on its foreign policy. The concept of extended/strategic neighbourhood widened considerably. Apart from Central Asia, its thinking went beyond South Asia. …

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