Seminar Report: Perspectives on Transforming India-Central Asia Engagement, Prospects and Issues
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Ambassadors of Central Asiain countries and Director of VIF

Central Asia has a been of immense geopolitical significance for centuries, whether it was Tsarist Russia or Soviet Union and now the current world order after the demise of the Soviet Union, Central Asia continues to play an important role in the emerging power structures. The competition between various powers was earlier referred to as a Great Game which in some form or the other continues even till today. The appearance of five sovereign Central Asian Republics after the disappearance of the Soviet Union led to a strategic vacuum in the region. Many major and regional powers sought to fill the vacuum by intensifying their engagement with new nations. India was somewhat a late starter in engaging the nascent nations. Meanwhile, Central Asians endeavoured to associate themselves with as many multilateral organizations and foreign powers as possible in order to define their newfound independence and national identity. Strategic significance of Central Asian Republics (CAR) was further enhanced by discovery of hydrocarbon reserves. Grant of military basing facilities by some the CARs to the U.S after the 9/11 terrorist attacks was another strategically significant event which continues to impact the forces of fundamentalism, extremism and terrorism emanating from Af-Pak borders and elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Central Asia is an area of vital importance to India, not only on account of its geographical proximity and India’s historical and cultural links with the region, but also because of the common challenges they all face from extremism and terrorism. India considers CARs as its extended neighbourhood and thus has strategic, security and economic interests in the region. However, the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the possible power vacuum that can be created by the withdrawal of NATO-US troops would have negative security and geopolitical implications for India and Central Asia alike. Afghanistan, a strategic land bridge between Central Asia and South Asia is rightly considered as part of greater Central Asia. Unstable situation in Afghanistan poses a serious threat to the security of India and the Central Asian states. Hence the importance of a dialogue on India-Central Asia engagement and policy formulations cannot be over emphasised. There is a felt need for think-tanks and experts to have a de novo look at India-Central Asia engagement and come up with more concrete steps and policy choices for intensifying Indo-Central Asia engagement.
The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) created a platform for this while conducting a seminar on Perspectives on Transforming India-Central Asia Engagement: Prospects and Issues on 14th and 15th February 2011. The seminar was noted for the presence of eminent area experts and policy experts from various Central Asian countries, Russia and India besides the Ambassadors of CARs and Afghanistan to India addressing the opening session of the seminar.

The inaugural session of the seminar started with the welcome speech by VIF director Ajit Doval, keynote address by Lt Gen RK Sawhney. The high level representation of ambassadors from four countries—Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan deserves special mention.

In his welcome speech Mr. Doval dwelt on the historical, cultural and civilizational linkages between India and Central Asia, and emphasised the greater need of exchange in every sphere of activities between CARs and India. While identifying problems of access, resource crunch, knowledge gap and knowledge deficit as some of the hindrances in the direction of cooperation he remarked that VIF’s efforts in this direction is a stepping stone to create a platform for people concerned to meet and discuss these issues. In the key note address Lt. Gen Sawhney observed that while looking at Indo-Central Asian engagement the role of Afghanistan is important as it connects Europe and Asia and has profound influence on Central Asia. He emphasised that an isolated economic growth is impossible in Central Asia; for nation building and improved prosperity it has to integrate with the region as well as international community. He further observed that other than Russia and the US, the neighbours of Central Asian countries like China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and India have their own vital stakes in developing the region. According to him, the post 9/11 period is a converging point of many regional players and the US against security threats emanating from various terrorists groups. In the new great game to control the region, the US policies to reduce the influence of Russia and Iran have not met with much success. The Chinese interests in the region are to enhance its power and influence in the region and expand its market economy through providing access to low cost goods. The stability in Afghanistan is the most important factor for further developing the region. He brought forth the Indian interests in the region including Indian aspirations for Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan- India (TAPI) gas pipeline project to materialise. For India better relations and cooperation with CAR is important as it ensures its influence in the region, help combat terrorism and other security threats. There is also need for developing transport corridors in the region and maximise its share in the global market.

The ambassador of Kyrgyzstan highlighted the evolution of political and democratic process in the state within 20 years of its independence. She mentioned about the revolutionary events that have happened twice in the country which brought about changes in its polity. The social society is actively involved in management; the NGOs are widely presented, the multi-party system is developed, independent mass media is active leaving no option to the Head of the State to completely usurp power. People overthrew the clan regime of President Bakiev and a new constitution was adopted that laid the foundation for a parliamentary form of governance. She appreciated Indian government’s recognition of the parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan and its support to the democratic process and offered collaboration in developing hydro-electric power with India. She expressed concern on drug trafficking through Central Asia from Afghanistan. Instability in Afghanistan and threat of terrorism emanating from there has been instrumental in giving military basing facilities to the US. Further, Russia has also been given a base for stationing Rapid Response Forces of Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). She considered Indian policies in Central Asia to be ‘pragmatic’ and welcomed enhanced Indian engagement with CARs.

The ambassador of Turkmenistan emphasised that the country is actively participating in the global efforts to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan. Quoting the President Berdimuhamedov he said Turkmenistan wants to see Afghanistan as a peaceful and prosperous country and a good neighbour and partner in the region. He was emphatic on the need to develop new approaches to provide economic assistance to the Afghan people. He suggested long term economic and development projects that involve communication networks, electrification, diversification of industry, construction of schools, hospitals etc. to stabilise Afghanistan. He emphasised that the importance of TAPI project is not only economic but also is a means to ensure stability and social development. TAPI is no longer an idea but is on the way to being realised as seen from the results of Ashgabat Summit of December 2010. According to him there was enough gas available to satisfy all the consumers in the different directions. He also revealed that in coming October, North-South railway connecting Turkmenistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia would become operational thus providing the shortest and most convenient route from Europe to South Asia through Persian Gulf. He expressed the willingness of his nation to extend the power supply to Afghanistan and reiterated its commitment to establish stability and peace in the region.

Ambassador of Uzbekistan emphasised in his address that Uzbekistan has been in a transitional phase of development. The impact of terrorism and drug trafficking on his country and the major setback they created in development process cannot be overemphasised. He stressed on the commitment of his country to usher in political reforms. This has been done through a joint session of the parliament last year. Enhancing role of the political parties, strengthening role of legislative authorities, development of free and independent mass media, creating conditions for expanding activities of NGOs are part of the new concept. Uzbekistan’s approach to Afghanistan is underscored through implementing a number of economic development and reconstruction projects. Recently, a railway line from Uzbek border town of Termez to Mazare Sharif has been completed. Uzbekistan is also providing electricity to Afghanistan through power line constructed by India. While concluding he remarked that Uzbekistan is committed to play a vital role to enhance peace and stability in the region and emphasised that security problems from Afghanistan are a serious concern for the country and the region. He promised the continuation of economic assistance to the war-torn country of Afghanistan and participation in the developmental activities.

The ambassador of Afghanistan highlighted the geopolitical importance of the country and its historic linkages with India and CARs. He observed that in the post 9/11 scenario the instability created by Taliban and terrorism has affected Afghanistan and its neighbours. He appreciated India’s concerns and efforts to build the country and acknowledged India as the 6th largest donor to Afghanistan. He reiterated the importance of TAPI project as a transit route between Central Asia and South Asia through Afghanistan. He expressed hopes that Afghanistan Pakistan Trade Transit Agreement (APTTA) which enables trade from Afghanistan to India would also be extended to allow India to send goods to Afghanistan in the reverse direction. He hoped that benefits of Afghanistan’s centrality will be shared by all. Highlighting India’s participation in bidding for Iron ore deposits in Afghanistan he remarked that Afghanistan looked forward to increased investments.

The first session of paper presentations covered the geopolitical and regional security dimensions under two headings—the role of major powers in the region and the extent and degree to which multi lateral engagements are beneficial for CARs.

Amb. Kanwal Sibal gave an overview of the strategic environment in Central Asia. He portrayed a vivid picture of the Soviet disintegration scenario and the new strategic environment created as a consequence. The power vacuum created by this gave other players to focus on this region and to become part of the new form of power struggle that includes Russia, China, United States, Turkey, Iran, and India. Russia is a strong player given the powerful regional arrangements and linkages that prevent the CARs in bypassing Russia. The US has a strong economic interest because of the oil and gas resources. It has been working towards establishing alternate oil and gas pipelines and routes as part of its greater Central Asian policy. China as a resource hungry nation also wanted a share of the energy reserves. Gas and pipelines from Central Asia and China are fuelling the growth of China. Recently Russia has also agreed to provide hydro carbons to China through Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline. He highlighted the role of Eurasian Economic Community, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Commonwealth of Independent States and CSTO. India has its own interests to make inroads into Central Asia in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. There are physical difficulties as well as problems of geopolitical situation which militate against India connecting to CARs. The negative situation in Afghanistan directly affects CARs and further increases the importance of the external players in the region. The U.S. has developed supply routes through Russia and CARs after reconciling some of its interests with Russia. He stressed on the need of realising International North South Transport Corridor which would be of immense benefit to all the stakeholders. His view was that strategic environment is fluid and the last word has not been said as there are many critical uncertainties revolving around terrorism, radicalism and fundamentalism emanating from Afghanistan.

Mr. Alexandar Lukin of Russia presented a paper on Russian perspective on Central Asia and prospects of cooperation with India. He highlighted the significant influence of Russia in Central Asia while admitting the fact that no single power has been able to monopolise the region. Russia does not have a monopoly over Central Asia. Russia’s relations with the CARs are based on its national interest with a commitment to solve their internal problems within themselves. He outlined the Russian interests in CARs as—various forms and sources of security threats and economic and cultural interests. The major players’ interests in the region coincide in some areas like political stability, secular political concerns and economic development. Though China’s influence in CARs is growing due to its economic engagement yet Russia has considerable influence. Russia is very cautious about its behaviour in its former areas and does not send troops etc. Security threats and challenges are the most important and they come from Afghanistan through Central Asia. Terrorism and drug trafficking are the most threatening. Economic engagement with CARs is another important Russian interest and it is mutually beneficial. Third are the strong cultural linkages of the past with CARs. He opined that the economic competition should not be mixed with political priorities. He emphasised that Russia supports India becoming a full member of SCO despite some reservations on the part of China. But then to assuage Chinese, Pakistan would also be allowed to become full member of SCO. He highlighted the secular, democratic and pluralistic values of India which would be an example for SCO countries. He emphasised on the active role India can play in the region in terms of economic development and Afghan issue in cooperation with Russia.

Mr. Lev Tarakov outlined Kazakhstan's vision on problems of regional and global security. His paper highlighted the efforts of Kazakhstan to cope up with the new environment after the disintegration of Soviet Union. According to him the foreign policy of Kazakhstan has helped to overcome the serious problems and to ensure regional and international security. At present, in 2011, Kazakhstan is the chairman of a major international structure- the Organization of Islamic Conference, and remains a member of the OSCE and is seeking to use the potential of both international organizations to find ways of convergence and the expansion of dialogue and trust on a line "the East – the West”, the Islamic and Christian world. Kazakhstan as OSCE chairman, has demonstrated commitment to humanitarian methods of the International Assistance in post-war reconstruction by providing $ 50 million to train Afghan youth in Kazakhstan universities. Kazakhstan’s another initiative at international level has been the institution of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a project sponsored by the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev which has become an important platform. The crux of his paper stated the achievements of the Kazakh government such as active involvement in improving international security, participation with international and regional organizations, direct participation in the military institutions of regional security, economic components ensuring security guarantees, and the m pursuit of stability and security. Kazakhstan is not only member of CSTO, SCO, and CIS but also of NATO’s Partner for Peace programme. Finally, Kazakhstan is committed to multi-vector policies to bring peace and security in the neighbourhood and improve economic cooperation.

The next speaker in this session was a China expert in India, Amb. Rangachari. He shared his views on strategic environment in Central Asia in the context of China’s involvement in CARs. He started his presentation with the narration of Chinese background in 1989 onwards starting from the Tiananmen Square and collapse of the USSR, the debate it created in the country to seek a way forward and China was focused more on economic development rather than political reforms. China’s engagement with CARs has progressed in phases and is centred on strengthening of economic relationship, addressing threats of security emanating from the region due to terrorism, extremism and Islamic radicalism. It aims at promoting peace and stability in the region and in many ways its interests converge with those of the other powers in the region. China’s political leadership avows that it is committed to share a mutually beneficial relationship with CARs and is keen to help CARs in improving their Human Development Index and internal governance. China has extended economic aid both through the mechanism of SCO as well as on bilateral basis by providing substantial loans to CARs. He highlighted that other than China-CARs energy relations it is keen on investing in precious resources like Tungsten and Uranium. He analysed the strategic concerns of China on the development of Tibet as it has mineral worth around one trillion dollars and said that power supply from Nepal can be used to develop Tibet. He observed that though China has greater access and influence in CARs than India yet India can be a balancing factor in the region. Even though India may not be able to match China in certain respects yet India needs to invest more in CARs and deliver projects on schedule.

The second day of the seminar started with the session on Developments in Afghanistan: Impact on Central Asia, chaired by Lt Gen RK Sawhney. In the introductory speech he briefed the historical connection between Afghanistan, CAR and India. Theme of the session was Developments in Afghanistan and its impact on CARs, role of different stake holders, security situation, and alternative options to establish peace and stability in the region and possible scenarios in Afghanistan after likely U.S. withdrawal post 2014. He said that in most of the deliberations concerning Afghanistan the most ignored aspect was the participation of the Afghan people themselves. Many western experts are concerned only about the southern neighbours and the northern neighbours concerns are almost left out. Nobody can become a self-styled mentor of a particular tribe for instance the way Pakistan has taken on the role of being a mentor of Pashtoons.

The presentations of research papers started with Davood Moradian from Afghanistan. In his paper on Assessing the current situation In Afghanistan and the way Forward, he looked at different ways that would help the country to improve the situation. He said that Afghanistan’s development and foreign policy model should be based on principles of reciprocity, accountability, regional cooperation, complementarity and solidarity. Giving example of complementarity he said that while European Union trains Afghan National Police the best option would be to provide funds and specialist training and normal police training could be better undertaken by India. Reflecting on Af-Pak relationship he was of the view it is very challenging and demanding. The relations between the two countries can be based on three models, positive strategic relationship, normal and good neighbourly and that of negative strategic relationship. Due to fundamental clash of interests between Afghanistan and Pakistan there is a negative strategic relationship, he added. There is a need to change this dynamic but this cannot happen in a hurry. Help of all the stakeholders is needed to stabilise situation in Afghanistan.

Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal in his paper on Developments in Afghanistan: Impact on CAR observed that Afghanistan is a unstable due to lack of cohesion and coordination between the government and the international community. Religious extremism, terrorism, drug-trafficking, state instability, and inter- and intra-state relations would adversely impact the region in the post US-NATO withdrawal scenario. According to him the ideal force in the post-NATO withdrawal would be a UN Peacekeeping Force regional in character inclusive of international actors. The role of close to 50,000 troops that would remain in Afghanistan may change to ‘non-combat’, as in Iraq. His paper discussed the pros and cons of regional involvement in the state such as the possible decrease of anti-West sentiments , more cohesive approach of various stakeholders, use of WHAM (winning hearts and minds) tactics instead of resorting to air-strike and heavy tactics, a possible leading role of Turkey, involvement of both Indian and Pakistani troops, among others. The paper also discussed about the potential of Central Asian involvement in the region in the form of creation of bases, hospitals, transit network and related activities.

The second presentation was by Laziz Tursunov who presented the Uzbek point of view on the current situation in Afghanistan. He observed that the Taliban attacks on troops have doubled over the years in Afghanistan and said that a possible way to stability is to develop a dynamic development pattern with the involvement of both the Afghan government and the international community. He raised the serious concern of Uzbekistan on the growing military presence in the state and observed that if the US troops were not successful then it would create more problems than before. Instead of seeking a military solution he supported action within Afghanistan with the people’s participation and UN support such as developing infrastructure, job creation, IT development, power supply among others.

Brig. Arun Sahgal’s paper on Afghanistan’s Alternative Futures, talked about the dilemma faced by various players. He opined that within the US itself there is a clash of interests and opinions on Afghanistan in view of the forthcoming US presidential elections. Period between now and 2014 remains critical for the stability of Afghanistan. Given the current nature of reconciliation and reintegration efforts, Afghanistan is likely to remain unstable in the near to medium term. More over the Af-Pak situation is also driving US energy strategy in Central Asia so that there could be a solution pertaining to Afghan issues. The problem for them is to sustain Pakistani support and that is quite unlikely to happen. So this is part of rethinking the American strategy. And in this construct the role and involvement of Iran remains unclear. There is some realisation that without best effort Afghan force will not be ready by 2014. He observed that the Pak problem would remain and Taliban would never be brought to the table if the international financial support continues. The emerging Chinese involvement and a possible Sino-Pak nexus are going to play its own role in the region. He visualised three likely scenarios; ‘De facto Balkanistaion of Afghanistan’, ‘Pakistan Brokered Peace’ and ‘Regional Influence’ depending upon the ascendancy of drivers of the situation. For India, Pakistan and Islamic fundamentalism are going to be a hindrance to access Afghanistan. He advised that India needs to broad base its commitment in Afghanistan.

The third session dealt with the salience of non-traditional threats to security in Central Asia. Prof Nirmala Joshi, Dr Sanjay Kumar Pandey, Dr Arun Mohanty were the speakers and Dr. Lev Tarakov as the discussant. The broad issues discussed were religious extremism and terrorism, drug trafficking especially emanating from Afghanistan, small arms proliferation and water security issues and prospects for cooperation.

Prof. Nirmala Joshi’s paper focussed on growth of religious extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking in Central Asia. The disintegration of Soviet Union saw the revival of religion in the newly independent states of Central Asia. Mosques were constructed in all CARs and religious customs, practices and ceremonies began to be practiced. Foreign assistance from countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and UAE played a major part in the revivalism of religion. This revival could be seen as a response to the suppression of religion during the Soviet times. She observed that the religious extremism in this region started when the Tajik civil war that broke out in 1992 that took religious colour with some groups going to Northern Afghanistan to be trained in Islamic laws. They were imparted training in handling arms through Madrasas and mosques, which continued even after Taliban came to power. The Ferghana Valley which is shared by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and a stronghold of Islam ever since the Soviet times witnessed heightening of religious extremism with links extending to international extremist organizations in the Middle East. The organisation like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was seen as an affiliate of Taliban due to its close links with the drug trafficking. As a result of all these internal issues the post 9/11 war on terror launched by the West in Afghanistan was actively supported by the CARs. She also spoke about the porous borders of CARs with Afghanistan and its direct linkage with refugee problems and economic issues. She highlighted that drug trafficking is a serious problem for CARs with its main route originating in Afghanistan and this factor plays a major role in sustaining religious extremism and terrorism. She emphasised that controlling drug trafficking in the region is crucial to establishing and sustaining peace and security in the region.

Dr Pandey’s paper was focused on the water security issue as a non-traditional threat and prospects for cooperation in the region. Central Asian states are unevenly divided in terms of natural resources with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are rich in oil, gas and coal while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are blessed with abundant water resources. Water issues are rampant in the region due to the semi arid nature of the region. The big dams and irrigation canals constructed by the Soviet Union in the upper riparian states which met the water requirements of both the upper and lower riparian states created issues since the system stopped working as a single command economy after creation of CARs. Hydro-power rich Tajikistan’s efforts to construct big dams have been resisted by the strong states like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and a consensus has not been reached so far, posing a threat to the whole Central Asian region. The water conflict has also given rise to other problems like over use of water, pollution, destruction of cattle and agricultural land etc. There is definitely a role for India to invest in power sector and engage CARs in farming and agricultural sectors.

Prof. Arun Mohanty pointed out the non traditional security threats like drug trafficking, international terrorism, radical Islam and water problems do pose serious challenges and negatively impact the nation building process in the region. Looking at the historical facts that led to the creation of the Central Asian states he said that these nations became independent before they could be prepared to face many non-traditional threats to the security. As a result issues like drug trafficking, migration, population growth/decline and poverty gained prominence as security threats to these nascent states. The non-traditional threat like drug trafficking has an international face in the region as it comes from Afghanistan and there is a clear link between Taliban and international terrorism as it finances radical Islam and terrorism. While Russia considers drug trafficking as a serious concern the U.S. has not demonstrated any serious concern on the issue. He stressed the need for a coordinated effort by the international community to deal with this serious threat in Afghanistan and CARs.

Dr Lev Tarakov who was the discussant in the session shared the view of Prof. Mohanty that the non traditional security threats are interconnected and present in all the CARs. Differing from Prof Mohanty he reiterated that the drug trafficking in Afghanistan cannot be solved by the international community but by the U.S. because of its presence there. Economic investments would help Afghanistan to take a normal course. He agreed that the interstate and trans-border rivers have become a source of conflict rather than cooperation leaving water conflict something bigger than the political or ecological problems.

The last session of the seminar was on Reconnecting Central Asia with India: Enhancing Economic Engagement. Amb. Kanwar Sibal introduced broadly the areas to be discussed in the session. The discussions revolved around multi-modal transport corridors, gas pipelines and ways to intensify economic engagement between India and Central Asia. He observed that Pakistan is politically determined not to grant overland access India to CARs as it see this as an extension India’s influence and power in the region and the possible subordinate role of Pakistan as a result of that. He said that Afghanistan also is an issue for us in terms of accessing CAR due to the political instability of the state. Iran is a possible way to for India to access CAR but the stand-off between the US and Iran is a serious concern for India.

The session started with the paper presented by Brig. Vinod Anand on Connecting Central Asia to South Asia: Transport Corridors & Pipelines that discussed various historical and current linkages and possible options and existing challenges to it. He observed that the shortest route is through Af-Pak; other options are Turkmenistan-Iran route. He anticipated the challenges such as security situation en-route, geopolitics, weak infrastructure and cross-border bureaucratic impediments. He discussed the status of International North-South Transport Corridor and its impact on the development of CAR. Another area of discussion was regional cooperation in the area of transport projects where he described the multimodal transportation corridors being constructed from the west to east connecting China and Central Asian countries and also Afghanistan. Some of the new routes like Northern Distribution Network being used by the U.S. and NATO/ISAF forces could become a foundation for a new Silk route and spur infrastructure development. He suggested that there is a need to invest in developing CARs infrastructure including hydro power projects in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The second speaker of the session Gulshan Sachdeva presented a paper on India-Central Asia Economic Engagement. He remarked that the economic reforms in India coincided with Central Asian economic transformation. Indian economy showed positive growth despite the 2008 economic slowdown that has provided confidence to leadership in the countries to push for much-needed economic reforms. Last one decade of economic growth in India, CAR and Afghanistan is good and has created opportunities for these nations to create new economic linkages for mutual benefit. He suggests that India should formulate an economic strategy to effectively engage Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian republics. He added that the U.S. strategic goals of stability in Afghanistan and its greater Central Asia strategy of helping linkages between Central and South Asia resonate well with Indian objectives in Afghanistan and CARs. Though India’s trade with CARs was very small compared to China, Russia and even countries like Turkey and Iran huge potential lies in transit trade through CARs and beyond to EU. The key point he made was that even if 20 percent of the possible future Indo-EU trade of $500 to 600 billion by 2015 was to pass through Pakistan and CARs it would provide immense economic benefits and opportunities to the transit countries. And that was reason enough for India and Pakistan to work together for bringing in peace and stability in the region. The paper also focused on the ways to increase India’s energy security. It stressed the need for stability in Afghanistan and regional powers joining together to find a solution to the current situation in Af-Pak region.

Jyotsna Bakshi highlighted in her paper the existing Indian energy scenario and portrayed Caspian and Central Asian region as source of energy supply to India and recounted the difficulties in bringing the same to India. Her paper presented a vivid picture on energy potential of each of CARs. The paper threw light on the TAPI project and the advantage for India if it materializes. The paper widely discussed all aspects related to energy such as each state’s potential, pipelines, geopolitics, various forms of energy resources and their implications for India. Meena Singh from IDSA spoke about SCO and India and how it can be a factor in new regional order in Central Asia. Her paper analysed the changing role of the SCO, the issue of enlargement and its future prospects. Her paper tried to answer the questions like role of India as an observer state and how can it contribute in furthering the stability and economic development in the Central Asian region and what would be the advantages and challenges for India if it joins the SCO. India’s interests in joining SCO are fighting terrorism, energy and trade & transport corridors. She observed that the challenges before India in joining SCO would be a possible third-tier status, its skepticism about China’s approach and mechanisms, implications if China desires a full membership in SAARC as a counter bargain and Pakistan’s full membership in SCO, and whether Chinese domination would affect Indian position negatively. Currently, India needs to utilize its observer status in much more effective manner and boost its cooperation at bilateral level with the member states, particularly with Central Asian countries, Russia, China and Iran. All these countries have commonality of interests in Afghanistan. There is also a history of India, Russia, CARs and Iran working together in Afghanistan against Taliban movement. India should try and use the side room politics during the SCO meetings to shape the thinking of these friendly countries in favour of its interests.

The session concluded by the speech by the chairman. He observed that oil is the most organized market if you can buy it. Other than monetary constraints there are no other constraints in obtaining the commodity. He observed that SCO is not only China and Russia but the Central Asian countries are its core and their concerns have to be taken into account.

In his valedictory address Amb. Satish Chandra emphasized the need to take up the suggestion VIF director’s suggestion that some of our researchers should touch base with the CAR missions in Delhi to pen down concrete ideas for improving linkages between India and the CARs. He detailed some of his own ideas in the manner which had also been echoed earlier in the seminar. Given the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan for the CARs he suggested that India should not only continue with its economic cooperation activities in Afghanistan but should do all it could to strengthen Afghan Armed Forces through training programmes. Afghanistan should pressurize Pakistan to extend APTTA in the reverse direction in order to provide land connectivity for India to Afghanistan and the CARs; he also sought the intervention of CARs with Pakistan in this endeavour. There was also a need for India along with CARs pushing for an early activation of the North South Corridor, increase in air connectivity between India and CARs and Indian involvement in infrastructure development projects like railway lines, roads, hydropower projects among others. Although much had been spoken about TAPI and great hopes placed on it, India's problem with the project is the security of supply. For the project to take off India’s concerns would need to be addressed. He suggested that India should vigourously explore cooperation possibilities in IT development, pharmaceuticals and the services sector as these were areas where connectivity was less important. Another key area of cooperation could be human resource development. It may also be worthwhile to consider setting up world class facilities modelled on IITs, IIMs and Research and Referral Hospitals like AIIMS. Increased frequency of high level visits of political, diplomatic, economic and military leadership would generate a momentum of its own for upgrading India-CAR ties. It would also be worthwhile earmarking a sum of about US $ 500 million per year for developmental activities in the CARs.

Event Date 
February 14, 2011
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