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Modi returns after a Landmark Visit of Six Countries; By Jai Kumar Verma

C3S Paper No. 0147/ 2015

Courtesy: Business Central Asia, July 2015 Issue 

Prime minister Narendra Modi returned back after a whirlwind tour of six nations from July 6 to 13. The visit which commenced from Uzbekistan included Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The tour was significant as it depicts the multidimensional policy of the country and also augments the economic relations with India’s old and trusted friend Russia and other Central Asian countries. At present the total trade with all five Central Asian countries is meager $1.4 billion. It is expected that after this historical visit the trade with these nations will increase manifold.

However the Indian and Pakistani media accorded prominence to the meeting between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers held at Ufa on July 10, at the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. Modi accepted Sharif’s invitation to attend 19th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit which is scheduled to be held at Islamabad in 2016.

The focal point of the talk was the eradication of terrorism from South Asia region. Both the Prime Ministers decided to accelerate the trial of Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008. The meeting further mentioned that the National Security Advisors of both countries would meet soon in New Delhi. The decision of meeting of National Security Advisers is important as Foreign Secretary level talks were cancelled in August 2014 because Pakistani High Commissioner in India invited and talked to Kashmiri separatists before the Foreign Secretary level talks. The other noteworthy development was that Kashmir issue was missing from the joint declaration. The opposition leaders in Pakistan including General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf and Rehman Malik criticized Sharif vehemently, they alleged that Modi was disrespectful to Sharif and behaved like “the Tsar of Russia.” Sharif walked a long way to meet Modi while Indian Prime Minister has not moved ahead to receive Pakistani Prime Minister.

Sartaj Aziz the Pakistani National Security Adviser issued a hard hitting statement mentioning that Kashmir issue will be discussed in the next meeting with India. The visit was necessary in view of increasing economic incursion of China in the region. At present Russia, China and America are three significant players in the area, after the visit of Modi, India will be the fourth major player in the region.

This energy rich region is vital for energy hungry India. Turkmenistan possesses the fourth biggest gas reserve in the world, while Kazakhstan is not only the largest producer of uranium; it is also an important producer of oil. Modi and President of Kazakhstan also discussed to remove the impediments so that Kazakhstan can supply 2000 metric tons of uranium as per last year’s agreement. India is also important for the region because the cost of energy is at the bottom and India is a big consumer of oil and gas.

The Central Asian countries also welcome the role of India as they are suspicious about Russia and China. Besides this India has a reputation of a peaceful country which never attacked any country. Not only this, the strength of Russia is declining while the power of China is ascending hence Russia also wants that India must play a positive role in the region.

China has sorted out border disputes with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and enhancing its trade with these countries minimizing the influence of Russia. India got the membership of SCO despite opposition from China because of the help rendered by Russia. China was obstructing India because it apprehends that India would be its competitor in the region. Pakistan also got the full membership of SCO on behest of China as the later is using Pakistan as antidote to India and unfortunately Pakistan is willing to play this undignified role. After becoming the member of SCO India should try to obtain assistance from other member countries so that its problem of energy is sorted out. India should also try to improve its relations with China and Russia. As both India and Pakistan became the member of SCO the leaders of both the countries must try to inculcate friendly relations with each other. As a member of SCO, India can also make efforts to counter the increasing terrorism in the region.

Formation of New Development Bank (NDB) is formidable success of recently concluded BRICS summit. India will be the first president of NDB which may act as a counter to World Bank and International Monetary Fund as both these banks are not only located in USA but also work under the US command. Modi inked several vital agreements during his 8 days tour. After his return from the tour he very rightly tweeted that “Strong ties between India & Central Asia are important for the future that we seek for our countries and region.”

Islamic fundamentalism is increasing in this region and it is a dangerous phenomenon for whole world especially for India. Appointment of Syed Asif Ibrahim former Intelligence Bureau Chief as special envoy for the region denotes the long term strategy of India. Ibrahim who has specialization in counter terrorism would liaise at top echelon in these countries and would train them in curbing the menace of radicalism.

Although there is great possibility of increasing trade between India and CIS countries but it is difficult to exchange goods due to absence of connectivity.

India’s Chabahar project in Iran will give India some connectivity with the region. However it will not be easy to counter China as it is well settled. According to analysts China has invested more than $33 billion in past few years in the region.

In a nutshell Modi’s foreign tours are always great success and the present tour is no exception. Modi has signed several agreements during the visit and the government must see that all agreements are properly implemented.

(The writer is a Delhi based strategic analyst.)

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