India-Central Asia’s First Summit and the Afghanistan Situation

Masom Jan Masomy
26th February 2022

Picture Courtesy: PTI

New Delhi hosted India-Central Asia first summit on 27 January 2022 to discuss multi-dimensional cooperative engagements. The meeting was delivered in virtual format in which the Heads of States from India and five Central Asia countries participated. This virtual meeting substantively marked the 30 years of diplomatic relations between India and five Central Asia countries beginning from 1990s as they all became independent after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Initiatives such as India-Central Asia First Summit and the India-Central Asia Dialogue are the components of India key ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ unveiled in 2012. The essential picture of the policy reflects India’s broader influential role in the region.

On the other hand, India’s bilateral and multilateral levels of relations with both Afghanistan and the Central Asian region (CAR) has enjoyed a special significance in the region under ‘Extended Neighbourhood Policy’ of India in the view of historical, cultural and civilizational relationship. It was paid a particular attention by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His visits of the five Central Asia countries and Afghanistan in 2015 reflected India’s strategic interests in both Afghanistan and CAR. It aimed at enhancing India’s political, economic and cultural role for sustainable peace and prosperity in the region through multiple interconnected platforms.

The first summit of India-Central Asia held on 27 January laid out India and CAR’s shared interests and concerns which it also had link with Afghanistan’s volatile image. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “We all have the same concerns and objectives for regional security. We are all concerned about the developments in Afghanistan.” The current situation in Afghanistan is uncertain and confusing for neighbouring and regional countries that they need to take a collective action to prevent any imminent catastrophic failure. India and Central Asia countries; in particular Afghanistan’s three neighbouring countries—Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are equally worried about terror outfits that may emanate from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

It is worthwhile to note that India politically, as a key regional player, was marginalized in the Afghan Peace Process and subsequently due to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan but it has kept its efforts alive on regional level to engage on the ongoing situation in Afghanistan by taking a clear stance. Since the fall of Kabul into Taliban hands again, India has been able to host three important regional meetings in reference to Afghanistan along with other thematic matters. The regional security dialogue of the NSAs-level of eight nations, except China and Pakistan, attended by national security advisors from Russia, Iran and five CARs in November last year called for collective cooperation on Afghanistan and underscored that Afghanistan’s soil should not become a safe haven for terrorism to launch attacks on other countries. They jointly supported the idea of a truly representative government formation in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the joint declaration of the third India-Central Asia Dialogue on the foreign ministers level held in December last year, reiterated their commitment to the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and combating against counter-terrorism, drugs trafficking, dissemination of radical ideology and more importantly support for human rights and an inclusive government in Afghanistan to be formed.

Owing to its geostrategic location, Afghanistan has always been a regional focus for India-Central Asia’s economic and security objectives. They have always given priority for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan rather than other countries. As such, the regional countries came closer after the Taliban came back to power on 15 August 2021. Regional security, stability of Afghanistan, trade, energy transit and connectivity are making strategic interests for India and CARs to connect through land and sea routes to boost their trade and transit ties. With returning of Taliban to power in Afghanistan, except India and Tajikistan, all neighbouring and regional countries remains in close diplomatic contacts with Taliban. Nevertheless, India has already extended humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by sending medicine and covid19 vaccine, and the 50,000 metric tons of wheat which it is expected to send through Pakistan’s overland route to Afghanistan.

Albeit the India-Central Asia first summit highlights multilateral efforts of India’s growing engagements in Central Asia. However, due to the recent changes both in Afghanistan and in the region, the one crucial aspect of India-Central Asia first summit is the pursuit of the outcomes of NSAs meeting and the third India-Central Asia Dialogue both held in New Delhi. The focus has been to assess the recent developments on Afghanistan and regional connectivity that how India and its regional strategic partners can engage jointly with Taliban on multidimensional objectives. Considering the ‘regional consensus’ on the evolving situation of Afghanistan, the involved sides agreed to establish Joint Working Groups on Afghanistan and Chabahar port in order to engage with the current entity in Afghanistan on security, trade and transit and notably connectivity initiatives. Taliban has reportedly showed interest to work together with regional stakeholders on energy transit, regional connectivity and economic cooperation. Therefore, preliminary diplomatic contacts have been initiated between the CAR countries and Taliban to boost regional connectivity such as starting work on TAPI project, with the Taliban looking to set up 30,000 security personnel for the gas pipeline and the Trans-Afghan Railway project that Taliban has committed to providing security inside Afghanistan. Regarding the Chabahar port, Taliban has also shown interest to enable the project for trade and transit to connect Central and South Asia through landlocked Afghanistan.

Moreover, India welcomed CAR countries’ interest to utilize services of the Shahid Beheshti Terminal at Chabahar port for facilitating trade and commerce between India and CAR, and the Turkmenbashi port of Uzbekistan to include within the framework of International North and South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It will further increase Afghanistan’s role between India and Central Asia to connect through Afghan soil.  The INSTC and the Ashgabat agreement for International Transport and Transit Corridor for connectivity initiatives, particularly augmenting Chabahar port as a main hub, have direct impacts on the current condition of Afghanistan with potential to encourage stability in the country.  Overall, regional consensus including the Taliban is existing on regional connectivity and economic cooperation that calls for cooperation and engagement. Hence, India and Central Asia’s active role may lead to productive results in relation to the Afghanistan situation plus regional security and stability.

*The Author is a Junior Assistant Professor at Afghanistan Academy of Sciences and holds a Master degree in South Asian Studies from Pondicherry University, India. He writes on Afghanistan, South and Central Asia.

 

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