Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in July 2015 to all five Central Asian Republics (CARs), followed by his visit to Ufa, Russia, to attend the joint summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS (the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as well as the informal summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), promise a new phase in India’s comprehensive engagement with the region. The revitalisation of its role in Central Asia comes after decades of inaction and inertia, punctuated by ceremonial displays of goodwill and cordiality. Hampered by lack of physical connectivity and transport links to the region, India is developing alternative channels for accessing Central Asia via Iran and Afghanistan. The obvious aim is to expand economic activities, particularly trade with Central Asia, but there is also the need to boost India’s energy security and strategic position.
India is carving out its strategic role in the region as a neighbour, regional power and a global actor within the regional parameters set by China’s economic pre-eminence, Russia’s geopolitical dominance, and the declining influence and credibility of the West.
Although a “late starter”, India has the advantage of deploying its soft power and neutral but favourable image in the region to strengthen bilateral ties in several niche areas – IT, knowledge transfer, enterprise, innovation, medicine and health, culture and tourism – as well as in the spheres of transport connectivity, energy security and strategic cooperation.
India’s efforts to become a visible strategic actor depend on its ability to establish a close strategic bilateral partnership with the CARs, advance greater security cooperation with Russia by building on its close ties with Moscow and develop closer collaboration with China’s infrastructural development initiatives in Central Asia. India also needs to go beyond its preoccupation with Pakistan.
As a new member of the SCO, while also seeking partnership with the EEU, India has the potential in the longer term to become an impartial third vector. It can do this by consolidating its status as a normative power with the capacity to make the requisite technological and financial investments in energy and transportation infrastructure, facilitate vital security arrangements and enhance its standing in the global arena by pushing for transformation of norms and institutions of international governance.
About the Author
Bhavna Dave (PhD in Political Science, Syracuse University) is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She also holds the position of Chair of the Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus at SOAS. She is the author of Kazakhstan: Ethnicity, Language and Power (Routledge: London, 2007) and editor of a four-volume reference collection, Modern Central Asia (London: Routledge, 2009), part of Routledge’s series on Critical Issues in Modern Politics. Her current research and writing focus on labour migration and mobility processes in Eurasia with a particular focus on Russia and Kazakhstan, migration and development in the Russian Far East, geopolitics and alliances in Eurasia, and India-Central Asia relations.
Americas / East Asia and Asia Pacific / Global / International Politics and Security / Policy Reports / South Asia
Last updated on 02/02/2016