Understanding A Shared Past
The past decade has seen a notable rise in India’s efforts to engage with Central Asia. Analysts suggest this is driven by two primary concerns: securing and diversifying India’s energy supplies in order to sustain economic growth; and keeping a check on the rise of radical Islamist groups that may pose a threat to India’s security. In addition, India is keen to tap the considerable commercial potential of the Central Asian region. Meanwhile, the strategic location of Central Asia means that it is a central locus of geopolitical manoeuvring affecting India’s relations with Pakistan, China, the US, and other powers in the region.
Historically, India was closely linked to Central Asia through trading routes as well as successive invasions of the subcontinent which swept down from the north-west. Post-independence India’s relations with Central Asia were shaped by Delhi’s closeness to the Kremlin, especially after the Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962. Constrained by its ties to the Soviet Union, as well as by a general inward-looking focus during the Cold War period, India’s presence in the region was mostly limited to cultural exchanges. The collapse of the Soviet Union prompted a shift in India’s foreign policy in the 1990s away from ideological alliances and towards a more pragmatic approach. Central Asia was now referred to as ‘our near abroad’ and India began to develop bilateral relations with the five new republics.
In June 2012, New Delhi launched a new ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy. This signalled that India would seek to build stronger political relations and strengthen strategic and security cooperation with Central Asian states. It proposed to step up India’s engagement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the establishment of a new Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement to integrate its markets with those of Central Asia. In practical terms it promised a cross-regional energy infrastructure, new flight connections with Central Asian states, and the development of IT, banking, and pharmaceutical industries in order to strengthen economic links.
While discussing India’s relation with Central Asia, it is rather difficult to separate the past from the present. The past feeds and enriches the present and provides the ambience for the warm relation existing between the two regions. Prof. B. B. Kumar in his book India And Central Asia: A shared Past deals with the religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, literary, commercial and political aspects of the relationship between these two region. The book deals with all these aspects in the frame of shared past.
By Nilabh Krishna