India's Connect Central Asia Policy

By Sabena Siddiqui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 12, 2017
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Sitting on a massive goldmine of energy reserves, Central Asia's Kazakhstan has 30 billion barrels of oil reserves while Turkmenistan's natural gas is estimated at 265 trillion cubic feet. As a result this region is extremely vital in the battle for resources and global dominance over the last decade. Located right in the center of Eurasia, it has considerable potential as a market for its natural gas, gold, copper, aluminum, iron and cotton as well. Geo-economically, CARs are indispensable trade partners for neighboring countries in this era.

Being the third largest consumer of crude oil globally, India wants to have closer strategic and economic ties with the Central Asian states but its trade volume sits at just $500 million. Limited land connectivity has proved to be the major obstacle. Lacking borders with the Central Asian states, India is denied land access through Pakistan's territory due to constant friction between the two countries.

Likewise, even after having invested heavily in Afghanistan it has not been able to establish connectivity with CARs as the country remains unstable. Most of India's connectivity endeavors have ended up as a lot of futile paperwork, even the Chahbahar port planned in Iran as a route to the energy-rich region has not kicked off as yet. Staying out of China's Belt and Road Initiative up till now, India's reach to the region remains constricted and it imports most of its oil and gas from the Middle East, which remains progressively unstable these days. For reasons it knows best, India wants to have its own route to Central Asia instead of consolidating with the regional arrangements in place.

Consequently, India formulated its Connect Central Asia policy to attempt at reconnecting with the region as well as establishing political, security, economic and cultural ties, and success in this venture would help raise its standing in Central Asian regional dynamics.

The "Connect Central Asia Policy" (CCAP) was formalized at the India-Central Asia dialogue held in June 2012 in Kyrgyzstan as a Track II initiative. Recognizing the hurdles in its way, Indian strategic expert K. Subramanian observed, "The Central Asian Republics (CARs) posed the most excruciating and complex challenges to Indian diplomacy judged whether by geostrategic compulsions or by India's energy concerns."

Also considered as India's "extended neighborhood," Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan attained independence after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. India lost touch initially and there were nominal bilateral engagements. Now, however nominal headway is being made with oil-rich Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan providing special incentives for Indian businesses and symbolizing energy security for India today.

In the near future, India plans a project known as INSTC -- the International North South Transport Corridor. Finally connecting it with Central Asia, the INSTC would be approximately 7,200 kilometers long. This multi-modal transportation system would involve roads, a railway and shipping networks to expand India's reach towards the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf onwards to the Caspian Sea and Iran, culminating in Russia and North Europe.

Visualized as a fast-track project by New Delhi, it will be completed by the end of this decade. Additionally, India hopes to inaugurate Chahbahar port this month with its very first shipment of wheat from India to Afghanistan. Initially it suffered setbacks due to sanctions on Iran. In full swing, the INSTC would generate trade worth $170 billion for India and it could import oil and natural gas as well as uranium for its nuclear facilities.

There are also opportunities for hydropower and agriculture agreements with Tajikistan as well. It may be possible to explore and produce hydrocarbons in Kazakhstan as Indian oil and gas companies expand their footprint. Closer economic co-operation would entail stronger defense ties between India and the Central Asian states, notwithstanding the geographical limitations.

Not only that, New Delhi is mulling over extending the Friendship Railway Bridge to Herat in Western Afghanistan as a part of India's bigger vision of "New Asianism." Significantly, the Connect Central Asia policy has heralded in the new power dynamics of the region based on geo-economics, this trend was recently described by the Asian Development Bank as an economic dynamo.

P Stoban, India's leading expert on Central Asia, observed that, "India has been slowly coming up with its own Eurasian agenda. It has taken some significant steps with enormous implications for realizing a strong potential connectivity link between India and Eurasia."

In its own way, India has begun its journey towards intra-regional cooperation even though it relies largely on its own initiatives as it prefers to remain in the leadership role. Having said that, since India has become a member of the Shanghai Co-operation Organization, it stands to benefit from closer engagement with the Central Asian states on that platform as well, especially in the fields of trade and energy.

Sabena Siddiqui (Twitter: @sabena_siddiqi) is a foreign affairs journalist and lawyer based in Pakistan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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