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India’s Growing Interest in Central Asia

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Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar went to Kazakhstan to attend the 6th Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) held in Nur-Sultan, the capital city of Kazakhstan, on 11-12 October 2021. Jaishankar, who also visited Kyrgyzstan in this process, announced that during his visit to Nur-Sultan, he would meet with Turkmenistan Foreign Minister Raşit Meredow and they would develop relations between the two countries.[1] Indian Foreign Minister, who was in Tajikistan within the scope of the Council of Foreign Ministers, meeting organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 13-14 July 2021, also visited Uzbekistan on 15 July 2021.

The meetings in question show that India closely follows Central Asia. In addition to the aforementioned visits, it is possible to say that the relations between New Delhi and the capitals of the region have gained speed recently. In particular, the 1st and 2nd meetings of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held in January 2019 and October 2020, and the India-Central Asia Business Council, launched in February 2020, can be examples of this situation.[2]

Central Asian countries followed a policy of opening up to the world after gaining their independence. The states of the region have been maintaining multidirectional and multidimensional relations with regional and global powers, especially for the last five years.

While these relations enable Central Asian countries to become a center; these relations also encourage them to take more initiative in the face of developments in Afghanistan and to become more effective actors. The participation of representatives from various countries of the world and the road map presented in the conference, titled “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity. Challenges and Opportunities”, held in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, on 15-16 July 2021, can be seen as proof of this.

New Delhi is one of the capitals that Central Asian actors have recently wanted to strengthen their relations in accordance with their multidirectional foreign policies. In particular, India’s growing economy means strong economic cooperation for Central Asia. The economic rapprochement between countries will make a significant contribution to the rise of Asia. Central Asian countries, which are trying to increase and strengthen their economic cooperation, also want to reach the seas through South Asia. One of the most important examples of this is the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar Railway Project, which is planned to be implemented between Uzbekistan and Pakistan.

The project in question is one of the first steps of the bridge, planned between Central Asia and South Asia. Therefore, the inclusion of India in the attempt, in the future, may ensure the formation of strong cooperation between the regions. However, due to Pakistan’s rivalry with India, there is a possibility that the Islamabad administration will not approve it.

On the other hand, India desires large markets and strong collaborations for its growing economy. It can be said that New Delhi has been trying to create its corridors for a while and accelerated its policies, especially due to the positive effect of the corridors established at the point of becoming a global actor. The implementation of the International North-South Transport Corridor is among the priorities of New Delhi.

The most important deficiency in the relations that India wants to establish with the Central Asian countries is the lack of a geographical connection between the sides. In order to overcome this problem, Pakistan should include India in the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar Railway Project or allow it to establish a new line. Since this seems difficult in today’s conjuncture, India draws attention to the fact that Iran can increase commercial relations through Chabahar Port or the air corridor at this stage OR India draws attention to the fact that it can increase commercial relations through Iran’s Chabahar Port or the air corridor, at this stage.[3] New Delhi wants to increase trade, which does not exceed 2 billion dollars despite historical ties with Central Asia.[4]

It should not be overlooked that one of the most important topics of Jaishankar’s visits is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan both creates security problems due to the existence of radical terrorist organizations and is the most important corridor connecting Central Asia and South Asia. The gaining stability and operability of this corridor will implement a win-win policy between regions and will enable security problems to be overcome more easily. In addition, stabilization of this geography, located in the northwest of India, will have a positive impact in terms of both regional security and India’s internal stability. In this context, strengthening relations with Central Asian countries is of great importance for New Delhi.

One of the biggest advantages of Central Asia for India is its various energy resources. As it is known, Turkmenistan is the fourth country in the world in terms of natural gas reserves. There are also important energy resources in Kazakhstan. In fact, this situation makes the region more valuable for India, whose economy is growing more and more. In particular, it can be stated that the implementation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline (TAPI) will further strengthen the relationship between the sides.

As a result, Central Asia, the corridor on the east-west and north-south lines, because it is one of the main transition points, constitutes the most important route of the Historical Silk Road. The rivalry in the historical process caused the ties between Central Asia and India to break. Today, Central Asia, in terms of India; comes to the fore over the security, trade, and energy resources. Moreover, while Central Asian countries follow a multidirectional, balancing, and pragmatic foreign policy; it is possible to mention political and economic competition between India and China. While the sides are trying to improve their relations to the extent that regional competition allows; it can be said that potential cooperation will serve economic development and regional stability. One of the main methods of solving the problems in Afghanistan is the establishment of interregional cooperation.


[1] “S Jaishankar Holds Bilateral Meetings with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Counterparts”, News 9 Live, https://www.news9live.com/world/s-jaishankar-holds-bilateral-meetings-with-uzbekistan-and-turkmenistan-counterparts-125645, (Date of Accesssion: 21.10.2021).

[2] “Joint Statement of the 2nd Meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue”, Ministry of Ezternal Affairs Government of India, https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/33148/Joint_Statement_of_the_2nd_meeting_of_the_IndiaCentral_Asia_Dialogue, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2021); “India-Central Asia Business Council Launched”, Outlook, https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/indiacentral-asia-business-council-launched/1727841, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2021).

[3] Doğacan Başaran-Betül Karagöz Yerdelen, “İran-Pakistan İlişkileri ve Bölgesel Güvenlik”, II. Giresun Güvenlik Sempozyumu E-Book, Giresun 2019, p. 62.

[4] Elizabeth Roche, “India, Central Asia Nations should Consider Air Corridors: Jaishankar”, Mint, https://www.livemint.com/politics/news/india-central-asia-nations-should-consider-air-corridors-jaishankar-11581057656907.html, (Date of Accession: 21.10.2021).

Dr. Emrah KAYA
ANKASAM Dış Politika Uzmanı Dr. Emrah Kaya, Akdeniz Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezundur. Yüksek lisans derecesini 2014 yılında Süleyman Demirel Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde hazırladığı “Latin Amerika'da Sol Liderlerin Yükselişi ve Uluslararası Politikaya Etkisi: Venezuela-Bolivya Örneği” başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Kaya, doktora derecesini de 2022 yılında aynı üniversitede hazırladığı "Terörle Mücadelede Müzakere Yöntemi: ETA-FARC-LTTE-PKK" başlıklı teziyle elde etmiştir. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Kaya'nın başlıca çalışma alanları; Orta Asya, Latin Amerika, terörizm ve barış süreçleridir.