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2nd meeting of India-Central Asia Dialogue

2nd meeting of India-Central Asia Dialogue

Introduction

  • The 2nd meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue was held in the digital video-conference format  under the chairmanship of the External Affairs Minister of India.
  • Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Republic of Uzbekistan as well as First Deputy Foreign Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic participated in the meeting.
  • The Acting Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan attended the meeting as a special invitee.

Highlights of the meeting

The Joint Statement released collectively by the Foreign Ministers highlighted following key points-

  • Emphasis on the need to continue close cooperation against COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Extension of support for a united, sovereign and democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • Condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations: All states reaffirmed the determination of their countries to combat the menace by destroying terrorist safe-havens, networks, infrastructure and funding channels and also underlined the need for every country to ensure that its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks against other countries.

Initiatives Announced by India

  • India is providing humanitarian medical assistance to their countries in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
  • India is offering grant assistance for implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP) for furthering socio-economic development in the countries of the region.
  • India has provided a US$ 1 billion Line of Credit for priority developmental projects in fields such as connectivity, energy, IT, healthcare, education, agriculture etc.
  • The India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC)
    • The council was launched by the Government of India along with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
    • It is a B2B body under the India- Central Asia Dialogue, ICABC should promote business linkages, facilitate greater understanding of taxation, business regulations in India.

What is Line of credit?

  • A line of credit is a type of loan that provides borrowers money they can draw from as needed.
  • Once a borrower draws against a line of credit, they are responsible for making regular minimum payments to cover the interest accruing on the amount they draw.
  • In addition to regular interest payments, borrowers can also repay part of what they borrowed against their line over time.

Background

  • India was one of the first countries to recognise the Central Asian Countries after they became independent with the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
  • In 1992, India which had the cultural linkages (in terms of people to people contact, trade, and commerce) expanded the diplomatic presence in this region and established economic and political relationship as part of India’s “extended neighbourhood”.
  • India in the past had also initiated the ‘Connect Central Asia’ based on political, security, economic and cultural connections.
  • The primary objective of this policy was re-connecting with the region which has a long shared history with India.
  • Its focus areas also included regional connectivity, information technology (IT), cooperation in education, people-to-people contact, medical cooperation, and cooperation in regional groupings.
  • India’s ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ was reinforced in 2015. Since then there has been significant progress in cooperation, particularly in the fields of defence, energy and connectivity.

About India-Central Asia Dialogue

  • India holds this dialogue with five Central Asian countries- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • All the countries participating in the dialogue, except for Turkmenistan, are also members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
  • The 1st meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held in January 2019 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan). o Also, Afghanistan attended the 1st and 2nd meetings as a special invitee.
  • The dialogue provides a platform for strengthening cooperation between India and the Central Asian countries in political, security, economic and commercial, development partnership, humanitarian and cultural spheres as well as exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest and enhancing cooperation under the framework of UN and other multilateral fora.

India’s interests in the Central Asia

  • Mineral resources: Central Asian countries have abundant mineral resources such as petroleum, natural gas, antimony, aluminium, gold, silver, coal and uranium which can help ensure energy security for For example- Kazakhstan has the largest uranium reserves in the world.
  • Strengthening India’s role in Peace negotiations in Afghanistan: India has always advocated for resolution of the Afghan conflict on the principle of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process, which can be facilitated by support from Central Asian countries.
  • Connectivity: Central Asia lies in the middle of the Eurasian Continent and can help India achieve connectivity to Europe. The region is important for India to develop its transit and transport potential through regional and international transport corridors such as the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
  • Economic opportunities: Central Asia is a huge consumer market for a range of goods and services, which can be provided by India including IT services, tourism, tea, pharmaceuticals etc.
  • Ensuring regional peace and stability: Instability in the region can have wide ranging implications for India due to regional proximity and effect on India’s overseas projects such as the TAPI pipeline. Some critical issues faced by the region include- o Terrorism and radicalization with existence of terrorist safe-havens, networks, infrastructure and funding channels
    • Threat of the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as the region remains highly vulnerable to the smuggling of fissile material for WMD
    • Illegal Drug trade emanating from ‘Golden Crescent’ of opium production (Iran-Pak-Afghan)

Challenges

  • Growing influence of China in Central Asia: China’s One Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seems to be a credible threat to India’s objective on overcoming connectivity issues with Central Asia to ensure strengthened economic-political relations.
  • There are several administrative laggards in the region such as non-availability of hard currency, banking services, and prevailing corruption creating roadblocks in smooth bilateral relations.
  • Lack of accessibility: India does not share physical borders with any of the Central Asian states and the unstable situation in Afghanistan, impact of US-Iran tensions on regional connectivity projects and India’s antagonistic relations with Pakistan has further complicated connectivity and trade prospects for India.
  • India’s “Look East” policy has resulted in concentrating its economic and diplomatic resources in Southeast and East Asia.
  • Domestic challenges faced by the region: emerging from religious extremism, authoritarian regimes, terrorism, ongoing conflicts etc is in itself a challenge in furthering India’s economic interests.
  • Porous border and unbridled corruption along with the proximity with regions of soaring opium production (Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle) makes the region a powerhouse for drug and money trafficking.

Conclusion

  • India should leverage the historical, cultural and civilizational bonds as well as traditionally close people-to-people contacts to build its Central Asia partnership.
  • ICABC can help promote business linkages, facilitate greater understanding of taxation, business regulations in India and the Central Asian countries and incentivize trade, business and investment, especially in the area of Small and Medium Enterprises.
  • Through Central Asia Dialogue, India has the opportunity of actively engaging in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan, including through the implementation of infrastructure, energy, transit and transport projects.
  • India should effectively use Chabahar port in Iran to establish trade and transport communications with Central Asian markets.

 

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