Evolution of ties Central Asia

INDIA has long been touted as one of the emerging giants on the world stage, and a country whose international interactions are expected to become a defining feature of what is increasingly perceived to be a nascent ‘Asian century’

It needs to be stated at the outset that both Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics occupy a shared geopolitical space within Indian strategic purview. It was the ‘enlightened self-interest’ in that drove Indian interest in its extended neighbourhood

It needs to be stressed at the outset that India’s strategic outreach to the region is constrained by and, at the same time, intends to overcome the limitations posed by geography—namely, the very real geopolitical barrier posed by Pakistan

In this respect, in its relations with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics, New Delhi has found itself perforce working with other international actors in order to secure a strategic foothold in the region.


  • It is to be expected that any bilateral relationship will draw on the past experience of its interlocutors. Yet, it appears that New Delhi treats the history of its associations with Central Eurasia with marked distinction.
  • The opportunities emerge from the exchanges of goods and ideas associated with the scholarly, religious, and economic connections between India and Central Eurasia. Buddhism travelled out of India and through Central Asia spread to other parts of Asia. The Bamiyan Buddhas which stood in central Afghanistan since the beginning of the sixth century until their destruction by the Taliban in March 2001 were just one example of this heritage.
  • The traders traversing the paths of the ancient Silk Road developed economic relations that exchanged not only goods, but also knowledge which assisted innovation and the development of new technologies.
  • The Kushan Empire is probably one of the earliest instances of many attempts to bring Central Eurasia and South Asia into a single polity. The Kushan polity had its origins in northern Afghanistan, but quickly moved to cover the territory of the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and much of northern India’s Gangetic Plain. North India had been subjected to pillage by Turkic, Uzbek, and other Central Eurasian armies since the tenth century, it was the establishment of the Mughal Empire in the sixteenth century that constitutes ‘the real jewel in the crown of historical arguments advanced by the Central Asian states and India alike in order to exalt their age-old traditions’
  • On the one hand during the more than three centuries of Mughal rule, a contiguous cultural space emerged between Central and South Asia, bringing together in creative interaction both regions. On the other hand, and this is where contemporary forms of Hindu nationalism become increasingly prominent, the Muslim conquest of South Asia led to the political, economic, and cultural devastation of the pre-Islamic culture of India
  • It is in this setting that colonialism interjects itself as another complex factor that has important bearing on the history of the bilateral relationship. The British managed to reverse the strategic calculus between the two regions to the extent that that probably for the first time in their relations it was India who was projecting hard power towards Central Eurasia. suggests that this shift is particularly associated with the British Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who championed a proactive ‘forward foreign policy’ strategy which allowed New Delhi to emerge ‘as a catalyst in regional and international diplomatic and military affairs’. Thus, it was during the Raj that India recognized ‘the strategic significance of looking beyond the northern borders over the Hindu Kush and the Pamirs into the heartland of Central Eurasia’,  which made possible the conversion of Afghanistan into a British protectorate, it was this very colonial experience that paved the way for the gradual decoupling of Central Eurasia and South Asia. For instance, the Curzonian drive towards Central Eurasia was not motivated by a desire for closer relations between the two regions, but merely aimed to counter the southward advances of Russia.
  • Thus, while South Asia became the proverbial ‘jewel’ in the crown of the British Empire, a significant part of Central Eurasia was gradually incorporated into the Tsarist Russian Empire,  while the rest—namely, Afghanistan—became a buffer between these two colonial projects.


  • In September 1995, the then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao announced that ‘for India’, Central Asia is an area ‘of high priority, where we aim to stay engaged far into the future. We are an independent partner with no selfish motives
  • Rao’s proclamation as the discursive genesis of India’s ‘Look North Policy’ (LNP)—a strategy intended to assist New Delhi in establishing a foothold in the region.
  • The explicit aim of the LNP was to establish India as a model for a secular, democratic, multicultural polity that the post- Soviet states of the region could emulate. In particular, India’s strategic objective has been the ‘consolidation of democratic and secular polities in Central Asia’ as a bulwark against ‘the rise of religious extremism’ . Thua the LNP encouraged the evolution of regional cooperation in Central Asia.
  • The LNP intended to prime India for access to the rich hydro-carbon reserves of the region.
  • However, the low levels of trade between India and Central Asia seem to attest to New Delhi’s inability to meaningfully accommodate the desire for a more assertive role on the global stage. Thus, as a result of this pervasive strategic ambiguity as well as a lingering perception that the region was still part of a Russian sphere of influence during the 1990s when the Central Asian states were eagerly looking for partners, India could not develop viable initiatives for closer relations.
  • India’s foreign policy outlook—in particular, the formulation of New Delhi’s external relations in reaction to Pakistan’s foreign policy strategies. In ‘Indian perceptions’, Pakistan has ‘vested interests’ in pursuing a ‘quest for strategic depth vis-à-vis India in Central Asia.
  • India’s LNP to Central Asia has therefore extended a ‘non-Pakistani alternative’ to the region. Strategically speaking, it is the shared perception of external threats that appears to motivate India’s bilateral relations with Tajikistan. Indian commentators explain that the civil war which ravaged the country during the 1990s has been ‘caused by a skilful exploitation of the inter-regional/inter-clan rivalries by forces of Islamic fundamentalism supported by the Pakistan-backed Mujahideen in Afghanistan
  • India has provided materiel and logistic assistance to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance during the 1990s as well as long-term military training to Tajikistan. In the process, India acquired exclusive access to the ‘Ayni’ airbase in Tajikistan. These developments seemed to indicate that the LNP is bearing fruit at least in one corner of the region. Limited both by the ‘ill-conceived [and] ill-executed treatment of Central Asia as a counterpoise between India and Pakistan’and the very real geographic barrier posed by the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, New Delhi was gradually forced to acknowledge that the LNP has failed to provide a viable policy for Central Asia.
  • Thus, in June 2012, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs unveiled its ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ (CCAP) as the foreign policy vehicle for its re-engagement with the region. Recognizing its latecomer status in regional affairs, the intention of CCAP is to allow India to carve out a space for its interests in Central Asia
  • CCAP aims to establish a ‘new Silk Road independent of the traditional land routes’
  • India intends to strengthen its strategic cooperation with the region by providing training for military personnel, IT and medical services, priority access for Central Asian students to Indian universities, and strengthening of economic ties.
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