Indian PM Modi’s sojourn in Russia and Central Asia to boost India’s multi-directional strategy!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has resumed his foreign tours and went to Russia and Central Asia from July 6-13 that will see a packed schedule with the prime minister spending about a day in each country. He was on a 3-day visit to Russia attend the seventh meeting of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits and was also simultaneously on his first ever eight-day visit of Central Asian countries, making Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan after the two summits in Russia.
Modi visited Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan from July 6-8, after which he attended the summits of the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the Russian city of Ufa from July 8-10. In Ufa, in the Republic of Bashkortostan, over 1,300 km from Moscow, Modi would be meeting his peers from the other nations of the BRICS grouping — Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the host, and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma – during the summit. After the two summits, Modi left for Turkmenistan (July 10-11), followed by Kyrgyzstan (July 11-12) and finally Tajikistan (July 12-13)
In Uzbekistan, the highlight would be Modi’s interaction with Indologists and Hindi language students in Tashkent. In Kazakhstan, Modi would address the Nazarbayev University and also inaugurate the India-Kazakhstan Centre for Excellence in ICT, where India has stationed a Param supercomputer, Sarna said. In Almaty (Kazakhstan), Modi would also attend a business event, where leading CEOs from both countries would be present. In Turkmenistan, the prime minister would inaugurate a centre for traditional medicine and yoga, with the participation of the Tukmen government, said Sarna. In Kyrgyzstan, Modi will have a packed schedule that will include the inauguration of an e-health link, under which one hospital in Bishkek will be linked with a hospital in India. “This is a pilot project and can be replicated,” the top official said. In Tajikistan, the final leg of the tour, Modi will hold talks with President Emomali Rahmon, besides other engagements. Modi paid a visit to India owned Ayni air base in Tajikistan, where it has set up a field hospital.
The Modi’s visit to the five nations, which are part of India’s extended neighborhood, are of strategic importance politically and economically.
PM Narendra Modi said on his arrival in Ufa, Russia: “It is very special to be in Russia, a nation whose remarkable friendship with India has always been known,” . He was accorded a warm welcome at the Ufa Airport and was hopeful of productive meetings and interactions at the BRICS and SCO Summits, forums India said attaches immense importance to.
BRICS, which is an acronym for its five member countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, meant for decision taking on enhancing cooperation in the economic front, – launched its new development bank with a $100 billion contingency reserve. The first head of the bank would be an Indian. At the summit of the SCO, a security bloc led by China and Russia, India and Pakistan were accorded full membership of the six-nation grouping that currently also includes former Soviet republics Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. India has so far only had Observer status in the SCO grouping, the focus of which is boosting connectivity, counter-terrorism cooperation, bolstering cooperation in the energy sector, enhancing trade and dealing with drug trafficking. With the BRICS Development Bank already set up, the summit also looked at the possibility of starting trade and credit facility in local currency. The BRICS Summit in 2014 was productive with interactions of BRICS leaders with captains of industry and leaders of other invited countries.
On the sidelines of the summits, PM Modi held bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. He met Chinese President Xi Jinping today and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday, July 10. With President Xi, the PM discussed bilateral ties at a time when India has expressed unhappiness over the proposed $46 billion economic corridor that would pass through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, and also over China’s support to Pakistan over the release of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi whose name was linked with the two day Mumbai attack drama.
All eyes , however, were on PM Modi and Sharif’s scheduled meeting on the sidelines of SCO summit in Ufa. Officials from India and Pakistan had been tight-lipped on the details and structure of the meeting. Modi and Sharif last met at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu last November; they did not hold formal talks so far. Sources have said PM Modi’s phone call to Sharif at the start of the holy month of Ramzan set the tone and broke the ice. However, sources have said this is no way indicates the resumption of dialogue just yet. At the Ufa meeting PM Modi was expected to raise India’s concerns on terrorism, including the release of the prime suspect Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, the 26/11 mastermind who has walked free earlier this year. Economic ties and trade negotiations found dominance in the talks between the two nations. PM Modi has also accepted Pakistan’s invitation to attend the SAARC Summit in 2016 to be held in Islamabad. Both agreed on a significant cooperation to counter terrorism, targeting Muslims in Pakistan and maybe in Kashmir.
Indian PM also solicited, as usual, the support of these countries in an effort to secure a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. PM Modi said as he left Delhi that he expects positive outcomes in economic cooperation and cultural ties among the BRICS nations.
Ever since PM Narendra Modi took charge at the helm of the Indian government, he has undertaken a number of strategic tours: from Bhutan to USA, including Canada, France, Germany and China and now Russia and Central Asian nations. The Indian PM has become known for his high-profile visits – each with the mission to build economic and strategic ties across the world and the visits are highly publicised by the PMO and corporate media syndicates. .
India’s move to counter Chinese game in Central Asia has prompted Modi to target Central Asia with th Russian support. Following the ‘Great Game’ of the 19th century, when the Russian and British empires contended over Central Asia, and the Cold War era when the Soviet Union and America locked horns, the last two decades have witnessed China entering as a formidable player in energy and infrastructural development in the five Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The central Asian countries that PM Modi shall be covering in this tour are all extremely important in terms of the natural resources they hold and in their potential to form strategic alliances. These nations have been key suppliers of oil and natural gas for China and are now looking for a diverse market. Oil, natural gas, and energy are at the center of the trade ties between India and these Central Asian countries which are rich in natural resources and share a cultural legacy with India. Modi had promised to bring solidarity to Indian ties with these nations. PM Modi underlined India’s historic ties with Uzbekistan – that land of Babur’s birth and its importance in the Silk Route. With Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, Modi discussed various investment opportunities for India such as in the fields of tourism, and culture. Cyber security is one key field where the two countries have decided to build a strong partnership and work together. Another key point of discussion was the implementation of uranium supply from Uzbekistan. 2000 metric tonnes of the mineral is to be imported by India. A similar Uranium pact was also signed with Kazakhstan; India will now import 5000 tonnes of the yellow mineral in the next four years. Kazakhstan and India also inked a number of MoUs related to trade and culture. India made a renewed effort at securing some of Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves – previous attempts having been waylaid by China.
Cultural ties formed one of the highlights of PM Modi’s agenda. Student exchange, linguistic developments, and religious tolerance were all discussed by the PM with the heads of these states. Yoga was discussed too.
Focusing on military partnerships, India has signed agreements on military and security cooperation, military exchange, joint exercises, and formation of a joint anti-terrorism unit. Tajikistan is already a significant military ally since 2002 when it built an air base near the town of Farkhor. This base is a support centre for US terror operations in Afghanistan and a counter point to any possible malevolent advances by Pakistan.
American military operations in Afghanistan which is culturally closer to Central Asia than South Asia, have meant that the region has been subjected to essentially a three-horse race.
India moves according to its own plan and agenda. After ‘Act East’, ‘Link West’ and proactive Indian Ocean diplomacy to the South of India’s landmass, PM Modi, fond of visiting foreign countries, has turned attention to Eurasia in order to connect North. His super fast trips to all five countries of Central Asia in one go, as well as Russia, from July 6 to 13, have boosted India’s multi-directional strategy. They have strengthened our presence in a geopolitically vital region labeled historically as the ‘heartland’ determining the fate of the world.
The International North–South Transport Corridor is a trade route (using various modes such as ship, road, and rail) between India, Iran, Russia, and other Central Asian, and European nations. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan are other routes, currently under consideration for addition to the existing corridor. PM Modi made a significant pitch to the heads of these countries to join the freight corridor. India also sought support from the Central Asian countries for India joining the Ashgabat Agreement – another strategic cooperation for movement of freight and a transit route between Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Oman, and Kazakhstan.
The post-Soviet Central Asian space is stuck between the dominant power of yesterday, Russia, and the dominant power of tomorrow, China. Despite the advancing strategic partnership between Russia and China, Russia dominates and even dictates its terms to Central Asia- a former block of republics in the erstwhile USSR. Central Asians confront after becoming sandwiched between Russia and China. India takes full advantage of its traditional military links with Moscow. The palpitation that countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have been undergoing under the looming Chinese shadow over their energy sectors has generated an opening that Modi is trying to exploit.
The setback to ONGC in 2013 in Kazakhstan, which blocked Indian acquisition of a prized oil well, has been made up via a new oil concession in the north Caspian sea where our energy major holds minority stakes. Modi has also extracted commitments from Kazakhstan for additional mature blocks for Indian investment, besides fresh contracts for uranium supply.
Modi’s energetic diplomacy in Central Asia demonstrated that India can be very important seeker of influence in the region, where Russia, USA and China calls all energy shots.