Tag Archives | Central Asia

China’s Central Asia Engagements

America’s entanglement in Middle East has given China the perfect ploy to increase its footprint in Asia. The much-hyped Asia Pivot is in doldrums, with no policy framework or strategy to manage China’s rise. China clearly senses that its power projection in the Pacific is limited by the vast US presence and its network of allies, but in Central Asia, a viable power vacuum gives it the opportunity to expand its presence and influence. Central Asia is critical for China in three sectors, mainly trade, energy supplies and the fight against terrorism emancipating from Xinjiang.

 Energy Heaven and Russia’s Backyard-

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chinese companies ran into Central Asia to chart out energy deals to secure China’s growing energy demands. Most of Oil and Gas Pipelines run through Caspian Sea, Central Asia and Xinjiang, deep into China. Russia continues to be the main geopolitical player in the region, with negligible US presence. But off late, it has been facing subtle yet stiff competition from China. With economic sanctions in place, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Russia to ward off China’s economic power play. China-Central Asia trade was valued at 50 billion dollars in 2014, a figure exceeding Russia’s for the first time. The China-Central Asia network of pipelines could supply up to 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas to China every year, or more than half of China’s total gas imports.

Xinjiang Factor-

Increasing terrorist activities in Xinjiang has put China on a high alert. Influx of the majority Han Chinese in the region termed as ‘Hanification’, and failure of developmental projects has angered the ethnic Muslim population to rise against Xi’s ‘Strike Hard’ campaign. Since most of the oil and natural gas pipelines pass through this region, China is concerned about the security of its investments, and has in recent years, tried to subvert the religious practices of the people in Xinjiang. Uyghur separatists used to move around the porous borders with other Central Asian states to reach Afghanistan, though in recent years their movements have been highly regulated due to increased Chinese clampdown. China’s domestic law enforcement agencies are coordinating with their counterparts in the region to capture the terrorists and bring them to justice. Stability and security is the buzzword in this region. China maintains a premium on stability, and will go at lengths to protect its trade interest in the region. After the killing of a Chinese hostage by ISIS, China has stepped up its counterterrorism efforts. Pakistan has also played a critical role in assisting China. Andrew Small’s ‘The China Pakistan Axis-Asia’s New Geopolitics’ provides a detailed description of their coordination on selective counterterrorism.

Trade-

Trade is a very important factor in China’s geoeconomic calculus in the region. President Xi Jinping unveiled the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative in 2013 to maximize trade and commerce between Europe and China, with Central Asia acting as a critical transit point. EU-China trade is worth around 580 billion dollars, with much of the trade traversing through Central Asia, a replica of the old Silk Road. During ancient times, China had become the most prosperous nation entirely out of trade with Europe and Middle East, and is using the old route to reemphasize its benefits to other nations. Furthermore, China wants to decrease its dependence on the lengthier sea route for trade with Europe, and hence has increased investment in infrastructure projects in the region. For this purpose, China has setup three institutions to fund the vast developmental projects in the region. AIIB, Silk Road Infrastructure Fund and New Development Bank will pool in a total of around 100 billion dollars, with the Silk Road Fund alone providing 40 billion dollars. They will mostly concentrate on connecting China to Europe through railway lines, roads and energy infrastructure. With slowing economic growth and output, OBOR is highly essential for China to succeed and provide the necessary impetus to bolster growth in coming years.

 

India is slowly engaging itself in Central Asia with oil deals and gas pipelines, the most notable being TAPI. But it continues to lag behind China in terms of investment and influence. India-Central Asia trade pegs at 800 million dollars, which would have been higher, if not for Pakistan. Lack of direct access to Central Asian region continues to be a hindrance in terms of trade, energy security etc for India. And as the Chinese say, India is still 2 decades behind them, more so in this region. Let’s see if India will be able to better engage itself in Central Asia, with its growing economic clout and energy demands. Prime Minister Modi visited all 5 Central Asian states in order to increase security cooperation and trade. As the TAPI pipeline finally materializes for India, another option for India is to let the pipelines pass from Xinjiang region through the disputed territory of Aksai Chin, though it is very less likely to get traction among policy makers on both sides. In choosing lesser of the two devils, China is a better option than Pakistan for energy trade.

Piyush Singh is Junior Research Associate at Takshashila Institution and a student of law at Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.He tweets at @Piyushs7

Comments { 0 }

India-Pakistan Rendezvous: Will terrorist attack destabilize the relation

 

Prime Minister Modi has called for a prompt and decisive action against those involved in the terror attack at Pathankot air base. Speaking to Prime Minster Nawaz Sheriff, Modi expressed his grave concern on the terror activities on the Pakistan soil and has called for an actionable response. Disrupting bilateral talks between India and Pakistan could be attributed as the key reason to this attack and a similar pattern has been sighted in the past.

A noticeable interface at the recent Paris Climate summit, on the sideline was the India-Pakistan Prime Minister talks that paved the way for a crucial Ministerial level dialogue. The rare meeting of the NSA (National Security Advisor) between India and Pakistan was described as cordial, open and positive. This was followed by the visit of India’s Foreign Minister Sushama Swaraj to the Heart of Asia Conference at Islamabad. Prime Minster Modi’s visit thereafter to Pakistan and meeting his counterpart Nawaz Sheriff, was seen as a significant bilateral development and an unprecedented progress in India-Pakistan relations. Interestingly this was followed several engagement like the cricket diplomacy and  the assurance by Modi to attend the SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan next year.

Despite the recent terror attack at the Pathankot Air Base and the Indian Consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan with several reports confirming the involvement of Pakistan militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the rendezvous between India and Pakistan continues. However, Prime Minster Modi has reiterated the fact that such a dastardly terrorist attack was carried out from the Pakistan soil and has insisted firm action. Normalization could succeed only if action on perpetrators are taken as promised by Pakistan. There is no ambiguity in the terrorist attack and India has provided specific information to Pakistan to investigate the strike. Prime Minster Modi has demanded stern action to be taken against the perpetrators.

On the face of hope, there is a movement for comprehensive bilateral dialogue as against a composite dialogue. The Foreign Secretary talks as of now does not stand cancelled. Instead of confrontation and antagonism there is an unruffled silence. There is a regional implication to this reticence, both India and Pakistan are competing for influence and stabilization in Afghanistan. Several common interest like trade, security, energy and terrorism underpins this relationship. Modi’s address at the Afghan Parliament dawned a ray of hope, positive spirt and an earnest effort to dispel the Pakistani notion of distress on India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

There are several drivers to this stabilization process and some of the key factors would be energy assets and viable Central Asian markets for both India and Pakistan. Afghanistan is a key promoter of regional stability and is looking forward to an era of economic and security cooperation. With an emerging India-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangular relation, each of them are exhibiting high level of maturity and commitment. The recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is yet another important strategic calculi.

Regional rapprochement has not been very successful and largely the South Asian politics have been dominated or clouded by India-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Modi on assuming office has committed to sustain normalcy in the region. Earnest effort to adhere his commitment was seen in several of his initiatives towards the region. The recent   Modi’s visit enroute from Kabul to Pakistan is an important milestone in the process of regional stabilization.

Terror attacks and threats have been the key destabilizing factor in the area. Several terror outfits coexist and cohabit in the region and they have been supported largely by fundamental and fanatic groups. Countering terrorism has been a daunting task and several peace process to find a solution to this enduring problem has dominated the past years. Thus countering terrorism as a regional phenomenon would succeed only if there is a single peace process outcome in which both India and Pakistan are involved. Pakistan counter terrorism operation in the tribal region along Afghan border is underway. A step to regional balance and progress is on cards and India’s involvement is seen as positive step in this initiative. South Asian diplomacy has been advancing well in the past few months with several rounds of talks at the Government level and the impromptu visit by the Indian Prime Minister.

Balancing the regional stability is a daunting task, there are several glitches to this progress. It is not the very first time that peace process or normalization talks have been stalled. The question that remains is, will the recent terror attack at Pathankot air base set the clock behind in India-Pakistan Relations.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute.  She tweets@priyamanassa

Comments { 0 }

India-Afghanistan Relations: The Way Forward

The iconic short story “Kabuliwallah” by Tagore and the interpretations on the land beyond mountains and imaginations have shaped the India and Afghanistan relations from the past to the present.  “Bound by thousand ties and million memories”, the relations between the two countries go beyond the traditionally state-to-state relations or government. History, culture, civilization and people to people contact have created commonalities thus making the past history the guide to the future.

 

India-Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid rich tribute to Indian democracy. India has been admired as the largest pluralistic society in which diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian groups coexist and cohabit together. India being the largest secular democracy is in a position to share its know-how and practice with Afghanistan. The nascent egalitarianism society of Afghanistan in all its earnestness looks forward to India for assurance and support in its quest for democracy.

There is a strong economic, politico-strategic and security component in the India-Afghanistan relations. India’s economic assistance and support to democracy is a step to reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan and helps India to establish links with energy rich Central Asia. For India a friendly and pro-active democratic regimes in Afghanistan would act as a balancer in the region. The stability of the region can be assured only if we have a stable Afghanistan which would counter the Taliban forces and India has extended its all out support in this endeavour.

Encountered with deep recession, Afghanistan embarked on several austerity programmes and launched stimulus packages that would help the economy move out of a dependent entity to a self-reliance system.  From Afghan’s standpoint, India’s investments and partnership would be a great value addition in the re-building process of the countries economy and infrastructure. The strategic and security system of Afghanistan is fragile and weak and India’s support and strategic partnership is worthy of mention and a step forward in stabilizing the region. Powers like United States welcomes India as a key player in the stabilization process that agonizes Pakistan, who has adopted a zero-sum approach in the region creating a security dilemma.

Geo-economically Afghanistan is very important for India, the foreign trade policy of India and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), hosts a tremendous promise that could help the country develop economic and strategic importance in Eurasia and Central Asia. The INSTC has particular economic and strategic relevance to India given the increasing regional ambitions of China through its one belt one road initiative. Several MOUs have been signed between India and Afghanistan. Indian investors are interested in the “virgin markets” of Afghanistan. Indian private sectors are seen as a driver towards prosperity in Afghanistan. The other important project is the building of Sister-City relations between major Indian cities and Afghan counterparts. The Sister-City relations will be connected through tourism, faculty exchange programs as well as through private sector investment. Several invitations have been extended to India to invest in Afghanistan.  India has been invited by Afghanistan to join Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement a very significant link wherein Afghanistan would act as a land bridge connecting South Asia and central Asia

Termed as one of continuity and engagement, India-Afghanistan relations is built on mutual trust and cooperation. With the exception of the Taliban rule, India’s relations with Afghanistan remain strong. Indian support continues in the reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization process of Afghanistan.  As the fourth largest donor, Indian contribution to the rebuilding process has been to the effect of US $ 2.2Bn and generous assistance has been provided in the formation of human capital with approximately 13000 Afghan students studying in Indian Universities. India’s signature project and commitment to democracy and institutional support can be seen in the completion of the Afghan Parliament. The Salma dam in Herat is yet another initiative in terms of infrastructure development is nearing completion which would generate 42 MW of much needed power for the electrification of rural and urban Herat and also help in irrigating 80000 hectares of agricultural land. The Trade and transit between India and Afghanistan, is gaining momentum and the movement of trucks across the Attari-Wagha border would spur regional trade and enhance economic engagement in South Asia. There is a ray of positive hope that Pakistan would allow the India-Afghan trade movement, which would boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is also keen on India’s involvement in the India-Iran Chabhar Port project. The project would create an international transit corridor. The Chabhar Port Project is of enormous significance both to India and Afghanistan. For Afghanistan it would boost the regional trade and for India it would provide a sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

India is an all weather friend of Afghanistan and continues to play a significant role in tackling terrorism in the region. India has expressed keen intent to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense capabilities for safeguarding its security and combatting all forms of terrorism.  India is supplying helicopters to Afghan government in its effort to combat the growing menace from Taliban. India and Afghanistan have discussed several ways and means to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism. India has spearheaded capacity building prgrammes and training to Afghan soldiers in their effort to tackle terrorism. Several terror network outfits operate from Afghanistan and have expressed this menace as a global phenomenon threatening international peace and stability.

Deep engagement drives India-Afghan relations. There is committed partnership and enduring interest between the world’s largest and fledgling democracy. A pluralistic society with rich tradition and civilization that was undermined by the Taliban forces today is committed to restoring peace and stability in the region. Deeply embedded in democratic principles and values, India’s support in this endeavor of reconstruction of Afghanistan is most sought after. There are set agendas and shared objectives in India-Afghanistan relations. India is keen to assist and build a robust economy and stable political institution in Afghanistan.  An earnest effort in the reconstruction process that is vital for India, as it anchors regional peace and stability.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

 

 

Comments { 1 }