India's Interests in Central Asia

Meena Singh Roy, Researcher

 

Abstract

Central Asia is a new geopolitical creation which has an important strategic role to play in the coming years. It is in the middle of three super civilisations—the Islamic, the Christian and the Buddhist and is seen by many experts as one of the most vulnerable areas of instability between them. It can become a natural, historically formed buffer zone as well as form the hub of Islamic extremism. Being placed in the middle of the Eurasian Continent, it is also one of the most convenient routes of transit. It is rich in minerals, especially hydrocarbons. As a consumer market it still remains to be exploited. All these factors lead to increasing interest in CARs by various countries. Experts point out that in the 21st century, Central Asia will become an important region. India as an extended neighbour of CARs has major geostrategic and economic interests in this region. The future prospects for cooperation between Central Asia and India in the field of energy security seem to be very important. Peace and stability in CARs and Afghanistan seems to be the most crucial factor for India's security. There is already a realisation by the world powers of the danger posed by religious extremism and terrorism. Therefore India should take advantage of the situation and cooperate with other world powers to overcome this rising menace of religious extremism.

The subject of Indo-Central Asian relations is not a new one. Close bonds of history have always linked the two, with this region being accepted as India's "extended neighbourhood". It is pertinent to underline that the centuries old relationship between the two regions has evolved through cultural interaction. Several facets of the cultures, civilisations and intellectual histories of the two regions suggest that they evolved not in isolation, but through reciprocal cultural enrichment. In modern times, however, the importance of Central Asia to India is not merely civilisational and historical, but also geopolitical and economic. Central Asia is of great strategic importance to India. There is enormous scope for pragmatic and profitable engagement between the two. The focus of relationship between the Central Asian Republics (CARs) and India can be defined by the importance of Central Asia for peace and stability in our region. Despite India's current under-involvement in CARs; these countries offer great opportunities, which if availed would help in consolidating India's short and long-term foreign policy goals in this region.

It is in this context that the present article identifies the evolving Indian interests in Central Asian Republics. It also examines the avenues of cooperation with these countries with which India shares many common interests. The article deals with India's geostrategic interests in the region with special reference to problems of political Islam and of drugs and arms trafficking. It also examines the economic and energy interests of India in this region.

The Geographical Significance of Central Asia

The end of Soviet Union created a new political reality on the vast expanse of Eurasia. Five new Central Asian Republics, Kazakhstan, Kyrghyztan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan emerged, each with its own national identity problems and politics.1 In terms of physical geography Central Asia can be described as "the island part of Asia, farthest removed from the world oceans, in the midst of the greatest land mass on earth."2

The geostrategic location of the Central Asian states has made this region extremely pivotal. CARs lie at the crossroads of Russia, the Middle East, South Asia and the Far East. Any geopolitical changes in the region inevitably extend their impact on several states in the neighbourhood.

The contemporary international significance of the new Central Asian states reflects their economic and demographic potential, geographic location, the character of their relations with other states, primarily with neighbouring ones, as well as their role in regional and global international organisations. Over 55 million people live in this region,3 which is quite rich in natural resources and in economic, scientific and technological potential. With the completion of Trans-Asian railway projects and the development of road and air communications, the trade and economic significance of Central Asia will increase further as it will serve as a route for considerable cargo flows to Asia and the Pacific region to Europe and West Asia, as well as from west to east.4 Most of the CARs have vast oil and gas reserves. It also has cheap hydel energy reserves especially in Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan. This has attracted the attention of various countries, including India. A number of companies from Russia, United States, Turkey, Iran and others are competing for the right to extract and ship the Kazak oil and Turkmen natural gas to worldwide markets. In fact today Central Asia has become a critical area in the foreign policy of both the West, South and East Asian countries. The US has provided a new direction to cementing a new partnership with some of these former Soviet Republics. Russia itself is trying to build a new cooperative framework and China is no exception to this trend. India is making a serious bid to forge new equations with countries in Central Asia. Countries like Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan are also making efforts to create a position of influence in this region. Japan and South Korea are establishing economic ties with these Republics. India, as an emerging regional power in South Asia is naturally interested in any changes occurring within or close to the region, which may have implications for its security.

India's Geostrategic Interests

The emergence of predominantly Muslim but, in fact, multi-ethnic and multi-religious CARs has added a new strategic dimension to the geopolitics of the whole of Asia and more so, for the countries located in its immediate neighbourhood. Central Asia lies at the strategic junction between two nuclear powers, Russia and China, and at the interface between Russia and the Islamic world. It shares borders with Afghanistan, which is a major source of spreading religious extremism in the region. India has a vital interest in the security and political stability of this region. Obviously given the Kashmir angle, India cannot be walled off from the political developments which take place in the Central Asian region. Any advance by Islamic extremist groups in the CARs could invigorate similar elements active in Kashmir. For reasons dictated by geography, India's strategic concerns are tied up with the regions bordering its north and northwest. Pakistan in its northwest continues to be antagonistic towards India. Pakistan is already sponsoring cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. For India, the Kashmir issue pertains not to four million Muslims living in Kashmir Valley alone, but to the peace and security of 130 million Muslims elsewhere in India.5 Therefore, for India the geostrategic importance of CARs is immense. Under no circumstance can India ignore this region.

On the other hand, instability in Afghanistan has also adversely influenced peace and security in our region. Most countries in the neighbourhood are convinced that extremists consolidating in Afghanistan under the Taliban will destabilise Central and South Asia. India apprehends that the Taliban's expansion will increase the pressure on Kashmir and extend Pakistan's strategic reach to the gates of Central Asia. Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to be the key actors creating destabilisation in the CARs as well as in India. Should the destabilising pattern of local conflicts as manifested in Afghanistan and some of the Central Asian states, especially Tajikistan continue unabated, the security environment of Southern Asia, already under severe stress, is likely to become more explosive. In the light of the aforementioned, India's long-term strategic interests in forging closer cooperation with the Central Asian states should be obvious.

Another point that needs to be highlighted here is that today the Central Asian region has become an area of immense importance to Europe, US, China, and Iran. The US is trying to undermine Russian and Iranian gains, China has committed billions of dollars for the development of Central Asian oilfields to fulfil its future energy demands. Europe wants to extend its influence by means of NATO expansion eastwards and through the Partnership for Peace (PFP) programme. All this is likely to bring in high-stakes power politics in Central Asia. This obviously has implications and India must consider whether these developments are desirable or not. The question that concerns India is that any external influence in CARs will have serious implications, direct or indirect for the countries of the region.6 Related to the geostrategic significance of CARs is the problem of religious extremism/terrorism or what Central Asian states call political Islam and problem of drugs and arms trafficking.

Religious Extremism/Political Islam/Terrorism

Today there are mounting security concerns in Central Asia and South Asia over rising cross-border and state sponsored terrorism; religious extremism/political Islam and ethnic unrest, radiating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Terrorism is gaining prominence in the range of non-traditional threats in Russia, India and Central Asian states. It has assumed a new dimension with the formation of transnational ideological, financial and technological networks. These linkages have made terrorism a potent source of destabilisation, both regionally and internationally. India is facing cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan in J&K, Russia in Chechnya and Central Asia in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Meanwhile, there are reports that the Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khattab and Central Asian fellow-militant Jumabai Namaughani have declared that the creation of new Islamist states in the CIS is their objective. They propose to do so with the backing of the fundamentalist Islamic movements in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and West Asia.7 The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, (IMU) financed by Osama Bin Laden, and extremist Wahabi groupings, is said to be trying to exploit the considerable discontent prevailing among impoverished ethnic Tajiks who make up a majority of the population in the Fergana Valley. Recently it was stated by Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister, Abdulaziz Kamilov, that fundamentalist Islamic organisations were training up to 400 young Uzbek and Tajik guerrillas at camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Uzbekistan has recently accused three Pakistani organisations—Mezb-e-Harkat-e-Jihad (MHJ), Devas-Ul-Ershad (DUE) and the Islamic Ulema Society (IUS) of clandestinely training hundreds of Central Asians at various centres in Pakistan with the task of carrying out terrorist attacks and destabilising the countries by overthrowing the governments.8 Already, radical elements of the United Uzbek opposition are converging in Kandahar—the base from where they are expected to launch a cross-border onslaught against Tashkent across the Amu Darya. Uzbekistan meanwhile, is fighting up to 100 rebels in the south, near its own frontier with war-torn Afghanistan. In February 1999 Uzbek President Islam Karimov narrowly escaped death when a series of bombs went off in the capital Tashkent. Commenting on the situation David Lewis of Control Risks Group stated that "This kind of instability could go on and on—I can't see it going away quickly."9

Growing violence along the southern belt of oil rich Central Asia has served as a stark reminder to leaders, diplomats and business that turbulence in the region is unlikely to disappear any time soon. A group of 30 to 40 armed rebels from Tajikistan clashed with government troops in the south of Kyrgyzstan in early August 2000. It is the worst violence in the region since August 1999, when several hundred well-armed men poured into Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan and held four Japanese geologists hostage for two months.

Violent turbulence in Afghanistan is affecting both India and CARs negatively. Afghanistan has become the source of fanaticism and extremism. The Taliban do not respect any international norms. In one of the interviews given by Ahmad Shah Masood in May 2000 to a Central Asian author, he said that "Afghanistan is only a starting base for the terrorists who stay in the territory controlled by the Talibs who train people from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and other countries, in special camps, also with the experts from Inter-Service Intelligence of Pakistan (ISI) who carry out special military training. The purpose of this training is to create a global fundamental underground movement in Central Asia, Russia and China to influence the situation in these countries. This process is already becoming a system, if not spontaneous, as it may seem. There is a well-planned strategy, and it is coordinated from one center".10 The US State Department, in its report on terrorism, also focuses on Pakistan and Afghanistan for sheltering terrorists. These countries have become the breeding-grounds for international terrorism. The US had branded the Harkat-Ul-Ansar (HUA) along with 29 other outfits as a terrorist group in October 1997'. The HUA has been indulging in trans-border terrorist operations in Kashmir, Bosnia, Tajikistan, Myanmar, Chechnya, and some African countries and in Kosovo.

Afghanistan has become the hub for training foreigners from different countries, Pakistan, India, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and even citizens from China, (ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang) to carry out jehad and participate in military operations on the side of the Taliban. According to the information given by some Taliban prisoners, 'madarssas' or religious schools supply students for the Taliban. These institutions are located near Peshawar (Pakistan), the main center being the madarssa Hakonia, which is supervised by the well-known Mullah Sami-Ul-Hak. The Uighur leave China with commercial passports for Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. There they receive visas at the embassies of Pakistan and go further (usually via Karachi). According to Ahmed Shah Masood, "there are lot of terrorist camps located along northern boundaries, especially in Qunduz and Balkh". He further explains that at these places they prepare subversive operations against the states of Central Asia. As a rule they do not participate in military operations in Afghanistan. The Uighur groups are there in Mazar-I-Sharif also. The Chechens mostly live in Rishkhor, and some near the cities of Tagab and Nejrob.11 A short term defeat of the anti-Taliban forces could create a humanitarian crisis in Central Asia, as tens of thousands of Rabbani supporters and their families would likely flee to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. These would have serious security implications since both the states are anyway struggling to contain social discontent arising out of their disastrous economic conditions. A sizeable influx of refugees could easily exacerbate tensions especially in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov is engaged in a fierce struggle to crush Islamic radicalism. A long-term victory of Taliban would make it easier for them to supply ideological, logistical and material support for Islamic militants fighting in Central Asia, Russia, China and India. It could also facilitate a significant expansion of narcotics trafficking, which is already a major source of instability in Central Asia.12

Problem of Drugs and Arms Trafficking

Another problem related to terrorism, and one that confronts India, Russia and CARs is that of drug trafficking. A lucrative drugs trade in Central Asia poses a major threat to stability in Central Asia. Central Asia was the hardest hit by the explosion in Afghan heroin. The Russian mafia, its ties to Afghanistan established during the Soviet occupation, used their networks to move heroin through Central Asia, Russia, and the Baltics into Europe. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan developed important opium routes and became significant opium producers themselves. In January 1999, the Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmanov told an international conference that drugs were being smuggled into his country from Afghanistan at the rate of one ton a day. According to sources in Uzbekistan there was an 11 per cent increase of drugs from Afghanistan during 1998. By 1999, Turkmenistan with its conciliatory policy with the Taliban had become the main route of export for Afghan heroin.13 According to sources in Kazakhstan, in 1999 national law enforcement agencies confiscated 23 tons of drugs.14 Tajik and Russian security agencies, with help from the UN, have seized almost 600 kg of heroin originating from Afghanistan in the first eight months of the year 2000. This amount is four times the amount seized over the same period in 1999.15 Hence, this region has become an invaluable areas, of the global narcotics trade. These states are internally unstable and economically weak. An impoverished farming population of this region is open to growing lucrative drug crops as a way to feed their families. In the southern part of Kyrgyzstan alone, four million people are involved in the dealing, moving, growing or processing of raw material. As a result Kyrgyzstan, now exports more narcotics than Myanmar or Thailand. In the areas bordering with Tajikistan, drug traffickers have stored tens of thousands of tons of opium and they are making their own underground labs for processing opium and heroin. They have now shifted to dumping the highest form of drug heroin in international markets. According to experts Afghanistan is exporting more than 75 per cent of the world's opium.16 According to the UN office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), about 65 per cent of the hard drugs coming out of Afghanistan pass through Central Asia on their way to world markets. Central Asian authorities intercept less than 5 per cent of all drugs being smuggled through the region.17 The officers of Osh say that the drug traffickers of Central Asia are consolidating their pace, they are becoming technically sophisticated and have the most modern means of transport, arms etc, and they also have surface to air rockets with them.18

Any one group does not control the transshipment of narcotics from Afghanistan and the production-distribution network of narcotics grown in the region. Criminal groups from Russia and the Caucasus form some of the most powerful drug mafias in the region. One of the most important trafficking routes in controlled by the IMU. Vast amount of narcotics from Afghanistan and Pakistan are transported to Tajikistan by the 725 km mountainous Kharogosh highway to the Fergana Valley. Here the drugs are distributed and redirected along several routes to Russia and to the west via Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Drugs are penetrating into Russia along two main channels. First, from the "golden triangle" of Southeast Asia via the Far East; the second from Southwest Asia—mainly Afghanistan and Pakistan—via Central Asia and the South Caucasus. Lieutenant General Alexander Sergeyev, head of the department for combating illegal circulation of drugs in Russia said at a press conference in Domodedovo in June 2000, that Russia needs "a second safety belt to block the drug channels from Afghanistan, primarily the ones that are used for transporting drugs to Europe" He noted that, "in spite of the first safety belt around Afghanistan, drugs get from this country to Europe through Turkey and the Balkans. Now, drug traffickers' routes have moved to the north: drugs are now transported to Western Europe through Tajikistan and Russia.19 Bruno Dato, the head of the Moscow regional bureau of the UN department for drug control and crime prevention said "over 20 million people on the planet (about 4 per cent of the worlds population) are drug-abusers. The annual revenue from this illegal drug turnover comes to approximately $50 billion. It is the total gross income of two thirds of the UN member countries. According to Dato's estimate Russia will have about 3 million drug-takers by 2010. He also stated that a major portion of heroin; marijuana, opium and cocaine comes to Western Europe and the USA from Central Asia, in particular, from Afghanistan and Pakistan.20

Central Asian region also remains highly vulnerable to the smuggling of fissile material for WMD. For example, the border and customs checkpoints in Kazakhstan have no special detection equipment for intercepting nuclear material. This region lies between two nuclear superpowers—Russia and China and also its neighbours, the two new nuclear powers, India and Pakistan. During the Soviet period Central Asia was the raw material base for its nuclear programme. After independence, Kazakhstan has closed its nuclear test range and has committed itself to being a non nuclear weapon state under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but it has not lost its potential of being a nuclear power. Uzbekistan has the world's third largest uranium deposits. Tajikistan also has uranium reserves and the capability of enrichment. Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, has a lot of nuclear waste left over as a legacy of the former Soviet Union. Thus, in this region there is a serious threat of the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Routes, which have been created for other illegal trafficking, can also be used for transporting components of WMD.21

Economic Interests and Prospects in Energy Sector

History illustrates the value of Central Asia as a transit route for the continent. Throughout history Central Asians lived in mutual economic symbiosis with neighbouring India, China, Iran and Europe.22 Today these old ties need to once again be strengthened, since trade and economic relations between India and CARs remain the most unsatisfactory aspect of an otherwise potentially beneficial relationship. The ground situation portrays a very low level of trade, limited number of joint ventures and no worthwhile investment in Central Asia by Indian business and industry, though there are small government credit lines. Indian manufacturing and investment companies are very apprehensive about entering the new, unfamiliar markets of Central Asia. This is due to the rather daunting conditions prevalent in this region. One of the main impediments is the non-availability of hard currency and lack of conversion facility service. The communication links are also problematic and at present the region is connected only through air links.23 While three of the five Central Asian countries are well connected with India today, with Tajikistan being the only country without an air link with India, there is a lack of satisfactory surface routes, banking channels, etc. which hamper expanding trade with Central Asian countries.

Nevertheless, potential for comparative economic advantages for the two regions is vast. Central Asia is a huge consumer market, hungry for a range of goods and services, which India can provide. Both India and Central Asia have economic complementarity in terms of resources, manpower and markets. These diverse resources can be pooled for a broader regional cooperation in Asia and to realise the potential of both the regions fully. For India economic cooperation is possible through joint ventures in banking, insurance, agriculture, information technology, and the pharmaceutical industry. Certain Indian commodities, for example, tea and drugs, pharmaceuticals and fine chemicals have established a foothold in the Central Asian market.24 India has to strive hard to increase its exports to Central Asia in order to maximise mutual benefits through bilateral trade cooperation. This region with a 55 million consumer market has huge potential waiting to be tapped. The Government of India is making an effort to create the right kind of atmosphere for companies to enter this market. It has been striving to improve the connectivity. Land route options through Iran and Turkmenistan are also being explored. There are already existing rail and road lines in Turkmenistan and Iran, except for a few short stretches, between Mashad and Sarakhs on the Iranian side and Tredzen and Sarakhs on the Turkmen side. Three party agreement on international transit of goods between Turkmenistan, India and Iran signed in February 22, 1997 at Tehran is still critical.25 This would enable the movement of goods from Indian ports to Bandar Abbas in Iran and then on to the Central Asian region by road and rail. India and Russia are developing a new transit route through Iran. New Delhi, Moscow and Teheran signed an agreement in St. Petersburg on September 12, 2000 for sending Indian cargo to Russia through a "north south corridor". According to the arrangement Indian goods will be sent from Mumbai or Okha to the Iranian hub of Bandar Abbas via the strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. From here, containers will be reloaded on trucks or railway wagons and dispatched to the Iranian port of Anzali on the Caspian sea. After transshipment at Anzali, goods will be loaded on ships and taken to the Russian port of Astrakhan. Astrakhan in the past has been the springboard for expanding Tsarist Russia's influence towards Central Asia. The land route from Astrakhan to the Russian mainland is straitforward as containers from here can be sent either to Moscow or to St. Petersburg. Cargo can further head for European destinations such as Helsinki and Hamburg because of the availability of a well-developed road and rail network. There are several bottlenecks yet to be cleared before the corridor could became viable. This new corridor could boost Indian trade with CARs as well as Central Europe.26 Another transit route which has been widely discussed is an agreement with China for the use of its road to Kyrgyzstan though the Xinjiang province. India could use this road by constructing a link road in Ladakh joining the Tibet-Xinjiang road. Ladakh is already linked by road with Himachal Pradesh.

The financial success of other countries in Central Asia is a consequence of their investment, an area which India has not yet considered seriously. In the year 2000 it was decided to set up a few pilot projects in Central Asian countries every year. Right now, a tool-room center in Turkmenistan by HMT, has been set up and also technical cooperation programmes have begun. The idea behind this is that India will be setting up a center of excellence there. They have a polytechnic where theoretical education is imparted. But the tool-room immediately adds a practical edge to the whole thing. Not only the students, budding entrepreneurs, people who want to set up their own business can also benefit from the Indian tool-room center. Likewise, every year, one project in one Central Asian country will be set up. This is going to be an on-going series.

A technical cooperation programme has also begun. Technically advanced Central Asian countries are beneficiaries of these programmes. They are also very serious about utilising the technical training slots that are offered, under this programme. When we talk of expanding economic cooperation with Central Asia, trade is not the only thing. The Central Asian countries have decided that they would follow a policy of value addition in their own countries. They are afraid that resources from their countries are being taken out in the form of primary commodities export and that does not really help Central Asia very much. So, their emphasis is that people should come in with investment and add value to what they have in those countries If one takes into account these policy preferences of the Central Asian countries, then India's main emphasis should be on manufacturing and industrial activities. Commercial farming is another important area where India and CARs can cooperate.

The prospects in infrastructure building and construction activities have long term possibilities. Such involvement would be mutually beneficial. In Central Asia there is an infrastructure building spree in many of the countries. One prime example is that of Asthana in Kazakhstan where a whole lot of construction activities are going on. They are inventing a new city. It is once again a good opportunity for companies who are specialised in infrastructure and construction. This sector is the key to the Central Asian market. In terms of economic cooperation, Kazakhstan is also very important for India. Six Indian firms/companies are accredited with Kazakhstan and nine joint ventures are registered. Once the transport corridor is established, there is great scope for oil exploration and energy market. In August 1999 a memorandum of mutual understanding was signed for the project, for the construction of project plan with modern technology for use of coal waste. At the same time, joint venture for feasibility study of the project was carried out and a business venture agreement with the firm Larsen & Toubro was signed in November 1999. In Delhi, a memorandum of mutual understanding and cooperation in the development of small enterprises and creation of new work place was signed. Currently small business industries in the Republic of Kazakhstan, and creation of an entrepreneurial development center in Asthana are under way. Attempts are being made to resolve transport problems between Bombay and Asthana; 350 containers are imported and exported annually through Indian ports.27

At the same time it also needs to be emphasised that without investment, without getting involved, one cannot get anywhere in Central Asia. Therefore, Indian business and industry would have to change their orientation to this market. There is also a distinct division of responsibility here. The government has the responsibility of creating the right kind of atmosphere in which Indian businessmen can do business. It has to be the business companies, which would have to take their money, take the risks, calculate the benefits and get involved in Central Asia. A few new initiatives are being considered, one being the creation of a Central Asia Common fund. This fund will be at the disposal of the people wanting to do business with Central Asia.28

Tajik participants put forth some proposals of cooperation between India and Tajikistan in a recently held seminar in Delhi. According to them the experience of India in decontaminating and purifying water would be very valuable for Tajikistan, because it is a specially acute problem for Tajikistan. Another thing which could be used is the rational use of hydroelectric power and construction of a mini hydropower plant. Tajikistan can also use Indian experience and technology in processing building material such as marble, granite and other stones. Besides, semi-conductor industry could be established by using raw materials emanating from Tajikistan.29 Thus, it can be said that India and Central Asia both have a mutually profitable trade potential.

An important area for India in CARs is the oil and gas sector. This is because energy security is a basic requirement today. This region is thought to contain key global reserves. A good current estimate is that the Caspian region holds 6,000-12,000 Mtoe, (4-7 per cent of global reserves). It may also hold 5,000-9,000 Mtoe gas (5-8 per cent of global reserves). Compared to the Middle East, where around 65 per cent of global reserves are to be found, Caspian reserves are therefore marginal.30 According to an estimate given by Central Asian sources the confirmed oil deposits are between 13 to 15 billion barrels, which is 2.7 per cent of all the confirmed deposits in the world. Natural gas confirmed deposits in Central Asia, are around 270 to 360 trillion cubic feet, which constitute around 7 per cent of world deposits. There is also a view that the actual reserves of oil in the Central Asian region are in the range of 60 to 140 billion barrels.31 Despite these variations in estimates of oil and gas reserves one thing which is very clear is that the region has some percentage of oil and gas deposits. Therefore we should not speculate about how much gas and oil, Central Asia might have or might not have, if it has any, it is in any case of interest to India. The main oil and gas deposits in CARs are in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, whereas Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have enormous hydel resources. In Tajikistan, each sq. km. of the territory has up to 2 million kw hours of hydel resources and this is a very high figure. The average for the CIS countries is just 150 to 200 kw hour per sq km. Therefore, the cheap hydel energy available in this region can be of use to India if it can reach through viable routes.32 It has been suggested that with consumption growth expected to be over 6 per cent per annum, the country's reliance on imports. (Currently 60 per cent or 75 per cent million tons) will double to 150 million tons per annum by 2010.33 India has already overtaken UK as the sixth largest consumer of energy and by the first half of the century, it is projected to be among the top five consumers of energy. India's GDP growth rate, which averaged about 5.6 per cent between 1992 and 1997, is expected to average around 7 to 8 per cent for the next few decades. To sustain this economic growth, India will need a vast amount of energy.34 Thus energy security needs to be considered in the overall national security calculus. In this respect suggestion of creating an Asian energy community was put forth by Ambassador Sikri in a seminar held in New Delhi on India-Central Asia. According to him, this would bring together the main producers and consumers of oil in Asia.

In this context, Central Asia can be a future source of energy for India. Accessing the oil and gas from Central Asia remains the major difficulty. It's prohibitive cost is the major issue of consideration. Offers of oil swap deals such as that offered by Turkmenistan is now being thought over. This offer is for oil swap involving Iran and Turkmenistan. Iran does not have enough oil in the northern parts of the country. So, Turkmenistan is offering to give Iran oil from Caspian in the north, expecting it to give India oil in the south. The joint working group on energy with Turkmenistan has already been set up. In July 2000, Iran and India invited Russia's state-owned gas company, Gazprom, to build an offshore pipeline to transfer natural gas from Iran to India. Gazprom holds a 30 per cent share in the development of one of Iran's largest gas fields. According to Gazprom deputy chairman Valery Remizov, Russia will step up development of the field and create a joint venture with Iran to transfer and market gas to India.35

On the basis of the above points it can be summed up—firstly, Central Asia is a new geopolitical creation which has an important strategic role to play in coming years. It is in the middle of three super civilisations—the Islamic, the Christian and the Buddhist and is seen by many experts as one of the most vulnerable areas of instability between them. It can become a natural, historically formed buffer zone as well as form the hub of Islamic extremism. Being in the middle of the Eurasian Continent, it is also one of the most convenient ways of transit. It is rich in minerals especially hydrocarbons. As a consumer market it still remains to be exploited. All these factors lead to increasing interest in CARs for various countries. Experts point out that in the 21st century, Central Asia will become an important region.

Secondly, India as an extended neighbour of CARs has major geostrategic and economic interests in this region. The future prospects for cooperation between Central Asia and India in the field of energy security seem to be very important. Peace and stability in CARs and Afghanistan seem to be the most crucial factor for India's security. There is already a realisation by world powers of the danger posed by religious extremism and terrorism. In fact, the problem of terrorism is not only being addressed at the bilateral level but also in various regional forums like Shanghai Five and Conference on Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA). Shanghai Five is a forum, which unites Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. For the first time Uzbekistan took part as an observer in the summit held in July 2000 in Dushanbe. According to the text of Shanghai Five Summit Declaration "the Sides confirm their resoluteness to fight jointly against international terrorism, religious extremism and national separatism which is the main threat to regional security, stability and development and against such criminal activity as the illegal circulation of arms and drugs, illegal migration. With this purpose, the Shanghai Five member states will draw up a relevant multilateral programme in the near future and will sign the necessary multilateral treaties and agreements on cooperation." The declaration also mentions that "the sides view the conference on cooperation and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia as a positive process in the Asian continent, guaranteeing, together with the existing structures and mechanism in Asia, additional opportunities for political dialogue on issue of regional security, strengthening mutual confidence and development of multilateral cooperation."36 Therefore India should take advantage of the situation and cooperate with other world powers to overcome this rising menace of fundamentalism.

It is also important for India, firstly to ensure that this region does not enter into any hostile combination against India. Secondly, India needs to carefully watch any strategic gain to Pakistan in this region. Thirdly, India should focus on a policy of economic diplomacy towards CARs.

Stability in CARs can have a substantial impact on the internal security of India, Russia and other neighbouring states. But the most important question that needs to be addressed is the question of stability in CARs. There are enormous prospects for evolving a framework for Central Asian regional cooperation, on the lines of other regional alliances, without giving it a monolithic character such as religion or ethnicity, thereby avoiding friction between national identities. Regional approaches are important for Central Asia in creating peace and stability in that region. The countries of East Asia have succeeded in developing a multilateral system Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the economic realm and Asean Regional Forum (ARF) in the area of security. They have deepened their interdependence and have ensured lasting security. The diverse pool of resources in South Asia and Central Asia can be pulled together in broad regional cooperation in Asia, which will in turn contribute to lasting peace and stability in the region. South Asia is already forging closer economic ties with Southeast Asia while simultaneously forming sub-regional groups like the Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation (BISTEC). Such sub-regional alliances can also be formed between South Asia and Central Asia.37

The above points clearly underline the imperatives for deeper cooperation between India and Central Asian states. India's approach to Central Asia would be that of positive engagement with the region. Therefore, economic diplomacy should remain India's basic policy thrust towards the region. India needs no clash but a compatibility of interests with the new states.

 

NOTES

1. In the 10th Century, the region was called Turan by the famous Persian poet, Firdausi (934-1025 AD) with Amu-darya (Oxus) as its natural border with Persia. The geographers used the word "Ma-Waran Nahs" in Arabic (Transoxiana in Latin) for the land between Amu-darya and Syr-darya (Jaxarters river). Later, another appellation, Turkestan, was coined when the region fell under the influence of the Turks. This has been used three times by the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, Babar, in his "Tuzuk-e-Babri." Today, Turkestan is divided into three geopolitical parts: Chinese Turkestan, which constitutes the Chinese province of Xinjiang; Afghan Turkestan, almost the northern half of Afghanistan; and Russian Turkestan, comprising the five muslim republics of Central Asia, Maqsudul Nasan Nuri, "India & Central Asia; Past, Present and Future" Regional Studies (Islamabad), vol. 21(1), winter 1992-93, p. 69.

2. Lawrence Krader in Encyclopaedia Brittanica (MACROPAEDIA), vol. 3, 1982, p. 119.

3. Mike Collett-White "Asian Unrest shows Regions Vulnerability" The Almaty Herald (Almaty), August 17-23, 2000.

4. Yelena Kayuzhnova and Dov Lynch (eds) The Euro-Asian World: A Period of Transition (London: Macmillan Press, 2000) pp. 29-30.

5. P. Stobdan, "India and Central Asia: Imperative for Regional Cooperation in Peace and Security in Central Asia" Occasional Paper Series, (New Delhi: IDSA, September 2000) pp. 96-98.

6. Ibid.

7. Dadan Upadhyay "Central Asian Nations to Back Russia in Fight Against Terrorism" Indian Express, September 27, 1999.

8. "Fundamentalist Threat Rising in Central Asia" <http://www.stratfor.com>2000>

9. Mike Collett-White, "Asian Unrest shows Region's Vulnerability". The Almaty Herald (Almaty), August 17-23, 2000.

10. Alexander Knazev "Afghanistan as a Source of Religious Extremism and Terrorism for Countries of Central Asia" (1999-2000), Paper presented at Seminar on "Afghanistan Crisis: Problem and Prospects of Peace," New Delhi, November 19-21, 2000.

11. Ibid.

12. Marat Mama Dshayav, "Central Asia and Russia Consider Responses to Potential Taliban Aggression", <http//www.cursasianet.org> November 2000.

13. Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia (London: I.B. Taurus, 2000) p. 120.

14. "Kazakhstan in Brief" The Globe (Almaty), no. 13(431), February 22, 2000.

15. Todd Diamond, "The Six-Plus-Two Group Unveils Anti-Trafficking Action Plan for Afghanistan", <http://www.eurasianet.org> November 4, 2000.

15. Todd Diamond, "The Six-Plus-Two Group Unveils Anti-Trafficking Action Plan for Afghanistan," <http://www.eurasianet.org> November 4, 2000.

16. "Kazakhstan in Brief", op.cit.

17. Erika Dailey, "Government and International Responses to Human Right Abuses at Tajikistan" <http//www.eurasianet.org> November 4, 2000.

18. A.U. Juamabaev, "Emerging Regional Security Challenges" Paper presented in India-Central Asia Seminar in New Delhi on September 11-12, 2000.

19. "Russia Suggests Creating Second Safety Belt" The Times of Central Asia (Bishkek), vol. 2, no. 26(69), June 29, 2000.

20. Ibid.

21. Jumabaev, op.cit.

22. "A Perspective for Central Asia-India Relation: Common Ties of History" The Times of Central Asia, January 27, 2000. The Islamic geographer Yaqut noted in the 12th century that "a prosperous merchant of Merve had one warehouse on the Volga river and another in Gujrat, India and he owned his prosperity to his role as a middle man in an exist of trade" Central Asia was a meeting point for traders and travellers, where mercantile communities lived in perfect harmony.

23. Aloke Sen, "Strengthening India-Central Asia Cooperation: Especially Economic and Trade Relations" Paper presented in India-Central Asia Seminar in New Delhi on September 11-12, 2000.

24. Muhammad Azhar, "The Emerging Trade Relation Between India and Central Asia" in Shams-ud-din, Nationalism in Russia and Central Asian Republics, (New Delhi: Lancer Books, 1999) p. 329.

25. M. Abuseitova, "Strengthening India-Central Asia Cooperation: Especially Economic and Trade Relation" Paper presented in India-Central Asia Seminar in New Delhi, September 11-12, 2000.

26. "New Delhi, Moscow Developing New Trade Route Via Teheran" The Hindu, November 3, 2000.

27. M. Abuseitova, op. cit.

28. Aloke Sen, op. cit.

29. A Dilshot, "Strengthening India-Central Asia Cooperation: Especially Economic and Trade Relations", Paper presented in India-Central Asia Seminar in New Delhi, September 11-12, 2000.

30. "The Geo-Politics of Caspian Oil" Jane's Intelligence Review, vol. 12, no. 7, July 2000.

31. Alim Jone, "The Energy Security Challenges and Resource: Transport Corridors" Paper presented in Seminar in New Delhi on September 11-12, 2000.

32. Ibid.

33. "India Vulnerable to Oil Supply Cuts" The Hindu, February 1996.

34. S. Ray Dadwal, "Energy Security: Challenges and Resources: Transportation Corridors" Paper presented in New Delhi, September 11-12, 2000.

35. <http://www.stratfor.com> 2000.

36. Sanghai Five Summit Declaration Text, Tajikistan Daily Digest, November 4, 2000 in <http://www.eurasianet.org.2000>

37. "A Perspective for Central Asia-India Relations" The Times of Central Asia, January 27, 2000.