The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 followed the international isolation of newly formed Central Asian Republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The regions were isolated from the International actor’s gaze, and only made headlines when the USA used Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as a military base to counter the military activities of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Along with holding a strategic position on the world map, the central Asian countries are gifted with an abundant amount of natural resources like oil, gas and uranium.
These countries have failed to monetize these natural resources because they lack a sound economic and political structure, in addition, the terrorism in Ferghana valley is another hurdle. But with china announcing the revival of the silk route, these countries will surely witness an economic boom in the future. And they will reclaim their lost glory. In terms of global geopolitics, Central Asia always occupied an important strategic position. As the geographic centre of Eurasia and hub of the Eurasia Silk Roads, Central Asia was called the “heartland” by the British geographer and geo-strategist Halford Mackinder. Mackinder said -“Whoever gains control of Central Asia gains control over the Eurasia continent; whoever controls Eurasia gains control over the world.”
China realizes the importance of stability in the neighbourhood and being long-sighted they are investing huge amounts of money in central Asian republics. It is estimated that China has invested 4 trillion dollars in the five states. The money is mostly invested for technological and infrastructure build-up. China’s strategy in Central Asia is to develop the region as an economic partner; connect East Asia and Western Europe; and create a more prosperous neighbourhood with which Xinjiang, China’s westernmost province, can trade.
China with economic integration is also aiming for cultural integration. The state has opened up seven Confucius Institutes in Central Asia: two in Kazakhstan; two in Kyrgyzstan; and one each in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
It’s high time that India also realises the geo-strategic position of the region. Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are the neighbours of Afghanistan. And with the USA pulling troops from Afghanistan in September 2021, the state has a high chance to witness political turmoil. Whether the world likes it or not, the Taliban will hold legitimate stakes in Afghan politics in the future. That’s an inevitable reality India has to face.
New Delhi has always shown its reluctance to deal with the Taliban. The government of India has always supported the “Afghan-centric and Afghan-led” government. And India never counted the Taliban to be part of this “Afghan” identity. The reason for this isolation is the Taliban and Pakistan’s close connections, which have been used in the past to conduct terrorist activities in India.
Taliban getting a place at the table will surely lead to a rise in terrorism and extremism, especially in Pakistan and Central Asia. The neighbouring countries already have politically fragile systems, and thus there is a possibility that it can become the new West Asia. Neither India nor China can afford this political instability in the neighbourhood.
If this happens it will negatively affect India’s national security and economy. Though the Taliban has assured India that their organisation will not work against India but their close ties with Pakistan is a real threat to India’s national security. In addition, India has invested a huge amount of money in Chabahar port, the port is a way to access Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eurasia. Hence regional stability is quite essential to get an economic gain out of this trade route.
India should start looking at Central Asia to counter the Taliban’s influence. Central Asian republics are politically and economically fragile and thus they have the potential to become the new battleground. India should start acting before the Taliban takeover. The country should aim for economic and cultural integration and joint military exercises.
India already enjoys amicable relations in terms of trade with all the five republics, the country even has a military airbase called Farkhor in Tajikistan. A change in perspective is needed from the Indian end, where the relationship with the Central Asian republics will not only be seen as a diplomatic relation but a strategic one.