India and China new players in Central Asia’s ‘Great Game’
A great game is unfolding in resources-rich, but landlocked, Central Asia, where China through its one-belt-one-road (OBOR) initiative is attempting to harness maximum mineral and hydrocarbon wealth as well as grow the market for its goods.
India, not to be left behind, has also embarked on a Connect Central Asia policy, trying to overcome a disadvantage it has: lack of direct connectivity to the region. While oil and uranium rich Kazakhstan is an old partner, Uzbekistan, which has historical links with India, is emerging as the next big partner for New Delhi in the region.
It has offered to provide special incentives and zones for Indian businesses, expand defence and counter-terror partnership with India and extend an opportunity to expand presence in the region and Afghanistan through mega connectivity initiatives. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enhance India’s presence in five ex-Soviet Republics and Eurasia through Uzbekistan.
While Beijing has made inroads across Central Asia, India views itself as a stabiliser and security provider in the region and, with its growing economic clout, is an attractive economic power for the countries in the region, government officials here said.India’s interest in securing reliable energy supplies and trade through Central Asia remains substantial. Besides oil and gas, energy-hungry India is eyeing imports of uranium from both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The requirements of energy security also postulate a continuing positive relationship with Moscow, the oldest player in the region.
India plans to create firm ties among the energy-exporting states of Central Asia, particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan besides Turkmenistan. New Delhi is considering exploration and production of hydrocarbons in Kazakhstan and participation of its companies in the oil and gas sector.
Kazakhstan has expressed interest in supplying gas to India. Delhi is also exploring with Uzbekistan the possibility of extending the Friendship Railway Bridge to Herat in Western Afghanistan amid a push to the government’s Afghan strategy, according to the one of the officials. With Uzbekistan being the region’s biggest military power, Tashkent is also keen to expand its defence partnership with India, officials said. India is also eyeing effective counter-terror partnership through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Counter-terror centre based in Tashkent, after it became a member of the bloc in June.
China has made significant headway in the region, with $10 billion in grants and aid to SCO members in Central Asia and developing regional linkages between Central Asia and its western regions. Central Asia is central to China’s OBOR policy.
India’s lack of direct overland access to the region due to Pakistan’s reluctance in allowing Indian goods to pass through its territory has hurt New Delhi’s trade interests in the region. However, countries in Central Asia are keen to have India as one of their major partners to unleash their potential, said an official.