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Why India must re-work its Central Asia strategy

The third meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue was held under the shadows of the pandemic as well as the uncertain situation in Afghanistan. The Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan underlined their “civilizational, cultural, trade and people-to-people linkages” with India and agreed to “continue close consultations on the situation in Afghanistan."

Unlike the first two dialogues, no special invitation was extended to Afghanistan. The gathering also coincided with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)’s Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Islamabad which discussed the humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan. While the Central Asian Foreign Ministers were in Delhi, Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi attended the Islamabad meeting. With the possible exception of Tajikistan, all other Central Asians have started engaging with the Taliban.

The changing dynamics in Afghanistan is pushing India to be pro-active in the Eurasian region and re-work its Central Asia strategy. There are reports that the presidents of all five Central Asian Republics are likely to be invited together by India as Republic Day guests. In 2018, India had invited all 10 ASEAN leaders for the event. Before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Delhi, India had held a meeting with the national security advisors from Central Asian countries. The meeting discussed the evolving Afghanistan situation in which officials from Russia and Iran also participated.

Central Asia has long been part of the Indian imagination because of old civilisational linkages and cultural connections. In the last three decades, India had an ambition to raise its profile and connect with its Central Asian neighbourhood. This has been reflected through its ‘Extended Neighbourhood’ and ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy.

Although India established close political ties with all countries in the region, commercial ties remain limited. An unstable Afghanistan and difficult India-Pakistan relations created problems for direct connectivity. Currently, bilateral trade between India and Central Asia is in the range of about $3 billion, out of which $2.5 billion is only with Kazakhstan.

Read More at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/why-india-must-re-work-its-central-asia-strategy-7854911.html

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