The significance of the First Meeting of India-Central Asia NSAs
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Associate Fellow, VIF
Introduction

On December 6, 2022, the National Security Advisors/Secretaries (NSAs) of India and Central Asian countries met for the first time in Delhi. The meeting was hosted by India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and attended by his counterparts from five Central Asian countries, except for Turkmenistan, which was represented by its envoy in New Delhi, MR Shalar Geldynazarov. The meeting was held as a result of the First India-Central Asia Summit, which took place in January of this year and at which all of the leaders agreed to hold regular meetings between the heads of national security in their respective countries.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to these countries in 2015, India's relations with the Central Asian republics (CARs) have improved. Following this visit, interactions between India and Central Asia expedited. In June 2016, New Delhi formally began the process of becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) by signing a memorandum of obligations in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In January 2019, an annual meeting of India-Central Asian foreign ministers was initiated. The most significant development was the start of a leaders' summit between New Delhi and the CARs in January 2022, which strengthened ties between the two regions.

Counter Terrorism, Afghanistan and Regional Security: A Common Challenge

India and Central Asia face challenges regarding regional security in relation to Afghanistan. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all share a direct border with Afghanistan, and any development in that country directly impacts them. Similarly, the Af-Pak region poses a significant threat to India's national security. As a result, the decision to hold regular meetings between India and CARs' heads of national security is a significant step toward addressing common security challenges and a few other issues, such as connectivity. This was one of the main topics of discussion in the first meeting of the NSAs of India and Central Asia.

Following their meeting, the NSAs issued a joint communiqué that focused on regional security issues like Afghanistan and counterterrorism. They denounced all manifestations and forms of terrorism and emphasised the necessity of international cooperation in the fight against the threat posed by terrorism. The participants emphasised the need for joint action to combat terrorism and terror financing as well as the fact that nations like Afghanistan shouldn't be used to harbour or train terrorists.[1] The NSA of India, Ajit Doval, also discussed the significance and applicability of Resolution 2593 of the United Nations Security Council, which aims to prevent the Taliban-led Afghanistan from turning into a sanctuary for terrorists and a fertile ground for terrorism that could be harmful to other countries, including India. The UN Security Council Resolution 2593 was passed in August 2021 after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan following the American withdrawal from the war-torn country.[2]

NSAs agreed to work together to help Afghanistan in light of the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the Taliban's takeover. Despite its reluctance to interact with the Taliban regime, India has been sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in the form of food grains and medicines. Similarly, Central Asian countries, particularly Uzbekistan, have been making concerted efforts to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghans via its UN-recognized international transport and logistics hub at Termez. [3]

The current Taliban regime in Kabul has praised India for organising the first meeting of national security advisers from Central Asian nations. Additionally, it declared that it would not permit any agency or power to use its territory to interfere in the internal affairs of another country. The Taliban regime also expressed support for the initiative to improve coordination for regional security. Additionally, it supported the joint statement supporting a secure, unified, peaceful, and stable Afghanistan. [4]

Connectivity needs to be Prioritised

Another issue that has long hampered Indian-Central Asian relations is connectivity. India invested in the Iranian port of Chabahar and the international North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to meet the connectivity challenge. New Delhi also signed the Ashgabat agreement to facilitate the movement of goods among member countries. Despite numerous efforts, connectivity between India and Central Asia is delayed. The Central Asian NSAs/Secretaries who took part in the discussion concurred that improved connectivity must be given top priority in order to strengthen economic and trade ties between India and the region. They also agreed that connectivity initiatives should adhere to all countries' territorial integrity and sovereignty, be open to broad participation, and be financially viable.[5] This made reference to China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which infringes on India's territorial integrity and sovereignty and has political overtones.

In this regard, the significance of the Chabahar Port was emphasised. The port of Chabahar was critical in delivering humanitarian aid to the Afghan people by international organisations. And, given the port's enormous potential to boost trade and connectivity, as well as the Central Asian countries' logistical capabilities, its potential as a force multiplier cannot be overlooked. They noted the growth in trade between India and Central Asian nations via the Shaheed Baheshti Terminal in the Chabahar Port. The participants agreed with India's suggestion to include the Chabahar port in the INSTC. This will make INSTC more economically viable.[6]

Responses from Central Asia

The meeting's significance was underscored, and it received extensive coverage in the Central Asian media as well. The Republic of Kazakhstan's initiative to establish a Network of Regional Centers for Disease Control and Biosafety under the auspices of the UN, as well as to establish a specific multilateral body - the International Agency for Biological Safety (IABS) was an important initiative which all other participants have taken a note of, according to the President of Kazakhstan's official website.[7] Similarly, other Central Asian countries took important steps, such as Kyrgyzstan proclaiming 2022 as the year of sustainable mountain development and Uzbekistan emphasising the importance of the Multifunctional Transport and Logistics Hub in Termez for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.[8] These were also mentioned in the joint Communiqué as well as in the Central Asian media.

Conclusion

The meeting of India's and Central Asian countries national security advisers raised several critical issues, including terror financing, counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, and connectivity between India and Central Asia. Above all, this has created another communication channel between New Delhi and CARs, which is critical for reviewing bilateral and multilateral relations. As previously mentioned, it resulted from the first leaders' summit between India and Central Asia. As such, New Delhi must continue to advance the ideas in the bilateral dialogue frameworks currently used by India and Central Asia.

Endnotes:

[1] ‘Joint Communique: First India-Central Asia Meeting of National Security Advisers/ Secretaries of the Security Councils’, Ministry of External Affairs GOI, December 06, 2022. https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/35950/Joint_Communique_First_IndiaCentral_Asia_Meeting_of_National_Security_Advisers_Secretaries_of_the_Security_Councils
[2]Maiden India-Central Asia NSA meet seeks joint action against terrorism, warns Afghan soil maybe used to spread terror, the first Post, December 06, 2022. https://www.firstpost.com/india/maiden-india-central-asia-nsa-meet-seeks-action-against-terrorism-warns-that-afghan-soil-maybe-used-to-spread-terror-11762031.html
[3] ‘Int'l hub established in Uzbekistan to render humanitarian aid to Afghanistan’, The Interfax, June 23, 2022 10:47 https://interfax.com/newsroom/top-stories/80552/
[4] ‘Taliban welcome maiden India-Central Asia NSA meet’, Tribune New Service, December 9, 2022. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/taliban-welcome-maiden-india-central-asia-nsa-meet-459096
[5] Joint Communique: First India-Central Asia Meeting of National Security Advisers/ Secretaries of the Security Councils’, Ministry of External Affairs GOI, December 06, 2022. https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/35950/Joint_Communique_First_IndiaCentral_Asia_Meeting_of_National_Security_Advisers_Secretaries_of_the_Security_Councils
[6]Ibid.
[7] ‘Meeting of National Security Advisors - Secretaries of the Security Councils of India and Central Asia’. https://www.akorda.kz/ru/vstrecha-sovetnikov-po-nacionalnoy-bezopasnosti-sekretarey-sovetov-bezopasnosti-indii-i-stran-centralnoy-azii-611101
[8] ‘Security Council Secretary Imankulov attends India-Central Asia meeting of National Security Advisors’, AKI Press December 8, 2022. https://akipress.com/news:688237:Security_Council_Secretary_Imankulov_attends_India-Central_Asia_meeting_of_National_Security_Advisors/

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