Modi’s focus on Central Asia

Ever since India’s incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken charge of  office,  special attention has been laid on strengthening India’s Diplomatic ties. After visiting the major powers of the west and fostering ties with few of our neighbors, focus has now shifted to Central Asian Countries. He is the second Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru (1955) to visit five Central Asian Countries. The hectic 8 day tour is scheduled to start on 6th July. Narendra Modi’s schedule includes making a stop at Uzbekistan followed by Kazakhstan on 6th July and 7th July respectively, before he finally flies to Ufa, Russia to attend the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit where India is eyeing for an upgrade from an observer to a permanent member seat. He’ll then visit Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

07modi_with_uzbek_pmWith concerns growing over China’s strengthening position in Central Asian region with the Maritime Silk Road Policy, Pakistan’s desire of reclaiming its lost grounds in Afghanistan and the increasing influence of Islamic State in the region, India ought to deepen its strategic engagement in the Central Asian Region.

These five countries are blessed with reserves of natural resources, many of them being unexplored. India’s growing energy security needs can find its safe haven in ‘stans’, which they were popularly referred to as during the erstwhile Soviet Union period.

Diplomatic sources have reported that energy and facilitation of trade are India’s top priority of discussion. Kazakhstan is one of the major oil producers whereas Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are home to world’s largest natural gas reserves. Natural resources of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are massively unexplored. Opportunities are aplenty to be tapped into by India in wake of our exponentially rising energy needs. Apart from oil, transit routes for easier flow of trade and people can be mapped considering our proximity to these countries. In order to counterattack China’s periphery in the region, it’s imperative for India to set its strategic footprints here. Thanks to the erstwhile Soviet Union Empire, India enjoys goodwill and amiable relationships in this territory.

India holds historic ties with Tajikistan. India’s only foreign military base is located in Ayni, Tajikistan. Apart from being a participant country in the Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Transit Agreement, India can also map new sea or road routes to realize full trade potential. Prospective nuclear and space-research co-operation is also expected to be on the cards for discussion.

Turkmenistan is looking at India as a prospective buyer of its recently developed potash fertilizers which will be a move away from exports consisting primarily of raw materials. Co-operation will also be focused in spheres of Trade, Science and Culture according to the ambassador of Turkmenistan to India.

In Kazakhstan India may seal deals in areas such as mining, minerals extraction and oil and natural gas projects. A meeting of India-Kazakhstan inter-governmental commission was held on 17th June. Oil Minister Dharmendra Singh said that India is planning to conduct a feasibility study to import crude oil and gas from Kzakhstan through a pipeline of as LNG in ships. He also announced that ONGC Videsh Ltd, a branch of state-owned ONGC, will be commencing exploratory drilling in the Satpayev block in the Caspian Sea next month. “We also reviewed developments in trade and investment. It was decided that we would work together within the framework of the Joint Study group to consider the feasibility of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement between India and the Eurasian Economic Union, of which Kazakhstan is a member,” Pradhan said. With inauguration of India-Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan rail link, India can also look into development of a trade corridor linked to the International North South Transport Corridor so that new avenues of trade can be opened up.

India’s diplomatic relations with Kyrgyzstan took shape in 1992 with inking of several agreements. Kyrgyzstan also backs India’s bid of securing a permanent seat at United Nations Security Council. Currently Kyrgyzstan’s exports to India comprise of metal scrap and raw hides. However with the newly signed MOU between the two countries, collaboration in textile sector is set to receive a boost.  India can push for initiating exploration activities in Kyrgyzstan so as to capture the untapped oil potential and build a reserve for itself abroad.

Turkmenistan has been India’s friend since 1992. It houses significant reserves of crude oil, rock salt, and iodine which can utilized for India’s benefit. It’s also known to have the fourth largest natural gas reserve which can support India’s growing fuel requirements. The establishment of Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan-Iran Railway which links Iran’s port of Bandar also offers opportunities of conducting trade.

The Pul-E-Khumri transmission link built by India between Uzbekistan and Kabul symbolizes growing ties between India and Uzbekistan. There already exists mutual MFN treatment and commercial cooperation in ample of sectors. On his visit to Uzbekistan, we can expect Prime Minister to further diversify the areas in which economic ties exist and root in for India’s prominence in drilling of its natural gas reserves.

Options available for negotiations are numerous, but time will only tell if Modi’s maneuvering results in concrete outcomes. A positive outcome to these talks can bring to a relief to India’s energy crisis, fortify economic ties in the Central Asian Region and ultimately make India’s existence felt in a terrain where China has become a major player.

– Mansa Saxena

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