Why India attaches importance to Central Asia

Nov 14, 2003 01:00 AM

by Jiang Yaping

Underlining its strategic interests in Central Asia, India set up a Joint Working Group with Tajikistan to combat international terrorism. This was agreed by visiting Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Tajikistan President E.S. Rakhmanov in Dushangbe. Eight treaties have been signed at the conclusion of the summit meeting, which include the agreement to intensify their defence cooperation and to build a highway linking them through Afghanistan and Chabhar port in Iran with the sea link completing it.
Tajikistan is the second leg of Vajpayee's three nation trip which includes Russia and Syria. As India's closest neighbour in Central Asia, Tajikistan is in high agenda of India's diplomatic efforts.

Before Vajpayee landed at Dushanbe, a contingent of the Indian Defence Ministry's military engineering services workers were packing up after a gruelling day of building a runway at an air base that lies 10 km north-east of the Tajikistan capital. The place is called Ayni where India's first ever military base was set up in a foreign country.
An Indian Defence Ministry spokesman has confirmed that New Delhi was involved in upgrading infrastructure at the Ayni air base and "has plans to station its troops" and air platforms in the near future to support its energy security interests in Central Asia. This is just another signal that India has paid great importance to Central Asia which is rich in oil and natural gas.

Indian oil major ONGC Videsh has tied up with Kazakhstan government for oil exploration in Alibekmola and Kurmangazy fields. OVL currently has 15 % stake in Alibekmola and 10 % in Kurmangazy oil fields that straddle the Kazakh-Russia border. Significantly, India and Tajik special forces held joint exercises in February this year.
New Delhi has for long looked at the Central Asian states as a potential source for its energy requirements, an Indian official from power ministry said. After successful diplomacy in Southeast Asia, India is now primed to replay its historical role in Central Asia after a gap.

Apart from Vajpayee's current visit to Dushangbe, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes headed for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha visited Uzbekistan, both in the first week of November. These visits underline India's new policy towards Central Asia. According to reports, India and Kazakhstan are to explore possibilities of joint research and development of thermal torpedoes and other fields of naval armament as part of new moves to bolster India's relations with the central Asian countries.
A Western diplomat said that India's future will be linked with Central Asia and with Southeast and East Asia. There is no doubt that India is getting ready acceptance as a reliable partner in Central Asia, he said. The fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan has not only vindicated its policies but also paved the way for deepening ties with Central Asian region which is part of India's zone of strategic interest.

During a visit to Uzbekistan on November 6, Sinha underlined the importance of Central Asia from the Indian perspective, saying that New Delhi was looking at greater economic engagement with the region. Attending the India-Central Asia Conference at Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, Sinha outlined the plan for a 200 km road between Zaranj and Delaran in Afghanistan.
"Once this road is complete, it will reduce by 1,500 km the distance between India and Central Asia," he said. Sinha pointed out that India was one of the first countries to have missions in all Central Asian countries. "Our desire for multiple transport links with Central Asia is in tune with our economic progress... India has become a major centre for outsourcing."

"Our cooperation with central Asia includes cultural, economic, defence and security relations. For us central Asia is our immediate and strategic neighbourhood,'" said Sinha.
"November is actually a month of central Asia for India," said an official from the External Affairs Ministry. And for sure, more and closer contacts between India and central Asia can be expected in the future.

Source: Xinhua
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