Dr Punit Gaur
Centre for G-Global Development Project in India
Research Fellow
Indian Council of World Affairs
Ministry of External Affairs
New Delhi, India

In continuation of India’s engagement with Central Asia, India hosted the first-ever India-Central Asia Summit virtually on 27 January 2022. The Summit was an outcome of developing political understanding between leaders of Central Asian countries and India. The visit of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi in 2015 to all five Central Asian countries was a milestone to amplify the engagement between India and the region. In recent years the high-level exchanges between both sides intensified. There has been a mechanism of India-Central Asia Dialogue at the foreign minister-level since 2019. New Delhi also hosted Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan at the level of National Security Advisors in November 2021, attended by all Central Asian countries. First India- Central Asia Summit was held in the backdrop of changing geopolitical conditions in the region. People to people contacts, energy and regional security and connectivity are some of India’s utmost reasons to engage the Central Asia region. The current situation in Afghanistan and the region’s overall geopolitical and geo-strategic situation makes both sides to overcome the common challenges.

At the first Summit, India and Central Asian countries proposed a roadmap to strengthen the cooperation for the next thirty years. PM Modi highlighted “Central Asia is Central” to India’s vision of an integrated and stable extended neighbourhood.[i] A comprehensive “Delhi Declaration” was adopted by both sides to reckon mutual interest. It has been decided to hold the Summit level meeting every two years and set up the “India-Central Asia Centre” as the Secretariat in New Delhi for continuing inclusive partnership through India-Central Asia Summit. Following are some of the major initiatives, with particular reference to political engagement, regional connectivity security, energy, cooperation, trade and investment and cultural and tourism, were taken by India and Central Asian countries:    

Political Engagement: With the ongoing India–Central Asia Dialogue mechanism at the Foreign Ministers level, both sides decided to extend the dialogue to Trade and Cultural Ministers level at regular intervals. India and Central Asian countries also proposed a “India-Central Asia Parliamentary Forum” to enhance the political engagements.[ii]

Cultural Engagement: India proposed to commission a ‘Dictionary of Common words’ used in India and Central Asian countries, and the Buddhist exhibition in all the five republics of Central Asian region would also enhance the cultural ties between two sides. Under the capacity building programme, India will host a 100-member youth delegation from the region annually, professional training programmes for diplomats and provide more training slots and scholarships to the Central Asian countries would also strengthen cooperation and engagements with the region especially in the context of people to people contact.[iii]

Trade and Investment: Many sectors have been identified like medicine, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, education, informational technology, infrastructure, agricultural, energy, space industry, textiles, gems and jewellery, where true potential can be achieved through intensive efforts. Both sides also proposed to create an India-Central Asia Investment Club under ICABC (India-Central Asia Business Council) to endorse investment opportunities. India and Central Asian countries would like to start cooperation between specialised national institutes, especially in information technology, renewable energy, finance, digital and advanced technologies. Increased demands in digitalisation and e-Governance also encouraged India and Central Asian countries to propose to establish an “IT/ITEC Task Force” between organisations, parks, and companies related to the IT sector of both sides to work in this direction. Both sides also discussed the healthcare sector. Central Asian countries invite leading hospital chains to consider opening branches of their multispeciality hospitals and diagnostic clinics due to increased medical tourism in India from this region.[iv]  

Connectivity: Lack of direct land connectivity is an obstacle between India and Central Asian countries in trade and investment. Connectivity was one of the important topics of the first India-Central Asia Summit. India has proposed establishing a Joint Working Group on Chabahar Port to discuss the free movement of goods and services and achieve its potential. All the five Central Asian countries agreed on the proposal of India to the inclusion of Chabahar Port into the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Turkmenistan proposed including the Turkmenbashi Port within the framework of INSTC and also stressed the importance of the TAPI gas pipeline project. India also hailed the interest of Central Asian countries to utilise the services of Shahid Beheshti Terminal at Chabahar Port to facilitate trade between both sides. Both sides also agreed to endure engagements to develop transit and transport potentials further, improve the logistic network and encourage joint initiatives to establish regional and international corridors.  

Regional Security: PM Modi reinforced that mutual concerns and objectives are vital for regional security with particular reference to the current situation in Afghanistan. Both sides took steps regarding Afghanistan’s problem and its impact on regional security and stability, including establishing the Joint Working Group on Afghanistan, regular meetings of Secretaries of the National Security Councils, and holding joint counter-terrorism exercises between India and Central Asian countries. India and Central Asian countries also discussed the “Delhi-Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan”, which was a crucial step to discuss common challenges of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation and to establish a “regional consensus” for “World free of Terror”.[v]

Since the early 1990s, Central Asian countries have been looking towards India to have a fruitful partnership for their economic diversification and social development. The 30th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between India and the region’s five republics provides impetus to strengthen cooperation based on mutual interest, understanding, and friendship. India is making constructive and earnest efforts to engage with Central Asian countries. Engagement through the first India-Central Asia Summit would allow both sides to meet immediate challenges. The measures announced in the Summit indicate the practical steps taken by the two sides to have a tangible outcome. Central Asia countries positively addressed India’s concern on terrorism, extremism and radicalization in the framework of regional security. The connectivity issue has a common interest for both sides. Central Asian countries would like to connect Central Asia to the entire South Asia region and acknowledge India’s role in this direction. First India-Central Asian Summit can be described in the multilateral framework to transform the “Connect Central Asia Policy” to “Act Central Asia Policy”.Endnotes

[i] The New India Express, “Central Asia is key to India’s vision of integrated extended neighbourhood: PM Narendra Modi”, 27 January 2022, https://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2022/jan/27/central-asia-is-key-to-indias-vision-of-integrated-extended-neighbourhood-pm-narendra-modi-2411985.html, 28 January 2022

[ii] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “Delhi Declaration of the 1st India-Central Asia Summit”, 27 January 2022, https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/34773/Delhi_Declaration_of_the_1st_IndiaCentral_Asia_Summit,  31 January 2022

[iii] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “India-Central Asia Virtual Summit, PIB Release, 27 January 2022, https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1793068, 31 January 2022

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “The Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan”, 10 November 2022, https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/34489/The_Delhi_Regional_Security_Dialogue_on_Afghanistan_November_10_2021 31 January 2022