Will India become a full-fledged participant in the Big Game in Central Asia?
AbstractMost analysts now agree that Central Asia has become an arena of the Big Game currently being played by the leading world and regional leaders. Nor has India been left on the sidelines, especially since it has clearly outgrown the role of generally accepted leader of the South Asian subcontinent of late and is making its claims to something more. Central Asia is geographically close to India and has common deep historical roots with this country; so its presence in the zone of Indian strategic interests comes as no surprise. This is also promoted by the significant potential for cooperation and good-neighborly relations that accumulated over the long years of traditional Indian-Soviet cooperation. Another important factor is that India is trying to prevent Pakistan—its permanent rival in the South Asia Region—from unilaterally increasing its influence on the Central Asian states where a power vacuum rapidly filled by numerous contenders formed after Russia withdrew. So the Indian leadership entrusted its foreign policy and foreign economy departments with the task of developing targeted relations and strengthening cooperation with the countries of the Central Asian Region. The so-called New Silk Road of Indian Foreign Policy became an important step in this direction. The exchange of visits between the heads of state and numerous delegations of different levels and vectors clearly demonstrate Delhi’s foreign policy priorities. The development of so-called people-to-people diplomacy is very important in the Central Asian vector. When carrying out its policy, India was able to reach mutual understanding with the leaders of the Central Asian countries regarding the coordination of positions and diplomatic actions in a wide range of international problems such as peacekeeping, settling regional conflicts, opposing terrorism and separatism, combating illicit drug circulation, and so on. One of India’s main foreign policy goals (the very existence of this country as a single state is only possible provided the principle of secularism is observed) in Central Asia consists in preventing the spread and establishment in this region of belligerent Islamic fundamentalism. India is trying not to lag behind Pakistan, which is making wide use of the Muslim factor for this purpose, in terms of the intensity and dimensions of its cooperation with the Central Asian countries. It is primarily motivated by the desire to prevent the Central Asian states from coming too close to Pakistan in light of their Islamic communality, which in the future could lead to them occupying a pro-Pakistani position on the Kashmir issue. The Indian leadership realized from the beginning that despite the clear statements by the heads of all the Central Asian countries in favor of carrying out a secular policy in their states, the pro-Indian position of these countries was in no way guaranteed. This required active diplomatic efforts, which India’s foreign ministry is still exerting to this day. These efforts have resulted in the region’s republics joining the Nonalignment Movement, in which Delhi plays a leading role. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have already become its full-fledged members, and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are acting as observers. At the same time, India is actively participating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICBMA), the initiator of which is Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbaev. In turn, the Central Asian countries support India’s candidacy as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They are also in favor of the need for the U.N. to adopt the Universal Convention on Combating International Terrorism proposed by India.