Analysis: How Indian view of central Asia and what’s Iranian position in New Delhi strategy?

Analysis: How Indian view of central Asia and what’s Iranian position in New Delhi strategy?

Efforts to build influence in Central Asia and boost relations with it are increasingly gaining significance in the geopolitical competition of regional and international powers. India is one of the newcomers in the circle of powers seeking expansion of relations with Central Asia.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Efforts to build influence in Central Asia and boost relations with it are increasingly gaining significance in the geopolitical competition of regional and international powers. India is one of the newcomers in the circle of powers seeking expansion of relations with Central Asia. 

Indian hosting of five Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan— on December 18-19 once again highlighted the importance of developing ties with this region in New Delhi's foreign policy. 

The meeting came as in November, the national security advisors of the five countries gathered in New Delhi to discuss Afghanistan. 

India is focusing on long-term strategic goal of increasing economic, military, and political influence in the region. According to the Indian prime minister office's website, at a recent meeting on trade, transit, and cooperation for joint and regional development, as well as the situation in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated the importance of India's long-standing relationship with Central Asian countries. 

Central Asia is not only a potential source of energy supply for India, but also its strategic position in the confrontation of China, Russia, and Pakistan makes the region more important to the Indian government as New Delhi cooperates with the five regional nations and competes with Beijing, Moscow, and Islamabad. 

Here is why Indian contacts to Central Asia matter: Economic interests, countering religious radicalism, and regional rivalry. 

India's policy of broader relations with Central Asia was first raised in 2012 and has now become more urgent, especially to take on China. Indian leaders are aspiring to transform their country into a great economic power in competition to China and to curb Pakistan's regional influence and power. 

Pakistan and India are staunch enemies and both have nuclear weapons. As a Muslim country with a common religion with the five former Soviet republics, Pakistan is seeking to strengthen its influence in Central Asia. It has also worked extensively with China, India's other rival in the region, and has benefited from significant Chinese investment in its infrastructure. 

India, which has strengthened its relations with Central Asia, is now trying to counter what analysts call "big game" of the rivals. 

Central Asia is at the strategic junction between the two nuclear powers, Russia and China, and on the border between Russia and the Muslim world. It shares a border with Afghanistan, a major source of religious extremism in the region. India has vital interests in the security and political stability of the region. Obviously, given the Kashmir crisis, India cannot be separate from the political developments that are taking place in Central Asia. For India, the Kashmir issue concerns not only the four million Muslims living in the Kashmir Valley but also the peace and security of 130 million Muslims in other parts of India. 

The big Asian country is worried that Taliban seizure of power in Afghanistan has increased the pressure on New Delhi in Kashmir case and broadened Pakistan's strategic domain to the gates of Central Asia. 

Another noteworthy point here is that today Central Asia is a region of tremendous significance for Europe, the US , China, and Iran. As Washington seeks to undo the Russian and Iranian gains in this region, Beijing has committed billions of dollars to develop Central Asian oil fields to meet its future energy needs. Europe, from a different aspect, wants to expand its influence through NATO's eastward expansion through the Partnership for Peace (PFP) program. 

The geostrategic importance of Central Asia is substantial for India, therefore. The emerging power cannot afford ignoring this region by any means. 

Another area of Central Asia's importance for India is economy and energy sectors. In addition to being a major consumer market for Indian goods, Central Asia is an important Indian transit route to the European markets.

But with Pakistan being in between, India's land connection to Central Asia is impossible, and as a result, strong ties and transit and trade agreements with each of the Central Asian countries faces an obstacle.

For this reason, India puts more focus on the strategic partnership especially Iran as transit routes from the north and south greatly facilitate India's access to Central Asia, which is both temporally and spatially beneficial. In recent years, the economic relations between Iran and India have changed as have the views of the two sides. India is trying to use Iran's position as a gateway to Central Asia and beyond. Iran is one of the most important channels for materializing this strategy. 

India signed a tripartite agreement on international transit of goods with Turkmenistan and Iran on February 22, 1997. This made it possible to export goods from Indian ports to Bandar Abbas port of  Iran and then to Central Asia by road and railway. India and Russia are developing a new transit route through Iran known as the North-South Corridor. 

Today, Indian goods are sent by sea to the southern ports of Iran, such as Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, and from there to the north and other countries. This is why India pushes for expansion of partnership with Iran as an access gate to Central Asia and Caucasus. 

Energy is another aspect of Central Asia's economic significance for New Delhi. Today, energy supply security is an essential need and while India as an emerging economic power aspires to secure energy supply sources, Central Asia with its key reserves globally is the best choice. Figures suggest that the confirmed oil reserves in Central Asia are between 13 and 15 billion barrels, accounting for 2.7 percent of the global crude reserves. Confirmed gas reserves of the region are between 270 to 360 trillion square feet, making up around 7 percent of the global gas reserves. Another view suggests that the real oil reserves of the region are between 60 to 240 billion barrels. Uranium and coal in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are other energy sources that can meet Indian needs. Taken together, Central Asia can be an energy powerhouse for India in the future.



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