India woos Central Asian countries in geopolitical race for influence

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries. [Website of the Prime Minister of India]

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi received the foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries in New Delhi on Monday (20 December) in an apparent effort to compete with the influence of other geopolitical players in the region: Russia, China, and Pakistan.

The Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan met with Modi at a meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue, hosted by the External Affairs Minister of India on 18-19 December.

Reportedly, the meeting focused on trade and connectivity, development partnerships and regional developments, including the situation in Afghanistan.

According to the website of the Prime Minister of India, the Central Asian Foreign Ministers emphasised the readiness of their countries’ leaderships to strengthen relations with India further.

In return, Modi stressed the importance India attaches to its long-standing relations with Central Asian countries, which are part of what India calls its ‘Extended Neighbourhood’.

He also congratulated ministers on the 30th anniversary of their independence. All the Central Asian countries were Soviet Republics that gained independence and engaged in nation-building after the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991.

Modi recalled his visits to all Central Asian countries in 2015 and subsequently to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

He also underlined the importance of maintaining cultural and person-to-person contacts between India and Central Asia, given the region’s popularity of Indian films, music, and yoga.

Potential enhanced economic cooperation between India and Central Asia and the role of connectivity in that regard was also mentioned by the Indian prime minister.

According to Indian media portal The Hindu, it is “significant” that the Central Asian countries’ foreign ministers chose to come to New Delhi. This is interpreted as an indicator that India’s outreach to this region is reciprocated.

‘The Hindu’ also noted that India’s land connectivity to Central Asia is hampered by Pakistan, which is building strong links and transit trade agreements with each of the Central Asian countries.

Pakistan and India are arch-enemies and both possess nuclear weapons. Pakistan seeks to leverage its influence in Central Asia as a country sharing the same Muslim religion as the five former Soviet republics. It has also developed links with China and has benefitted from significant investment in infrastructure.

“While India has strengthened ties with other parts of Asia, it must now redouble its efforts towards Central Asia if it is to counter the ‘Great Game’ rivalries playing out in the region and reclaim its shared history with countries that are an important market, a source for energy, and also a bulwark against the threats of extremism and radicalisation, The Hindu writes.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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