Breaking the protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to visit central Asian countries and Russia. Manmohan Singh visited Kazakhstan in 2011 and according to the protocol it was the Kazakh PM’s turn to visit but when it comes to national interest, India cannot afford to ignore Central Asia. Narendra Modi will visit Central Asia and Russia for the first time next week. The eight-day trip (July 6-13) will kick off with state visits to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan July 6 and 7. Then Modi will head north to the Russian city of Ufa for the combined BRICS/SCO summit from July 8 to 10. After the two-day summit, Modi will return to Central Asia, visiting Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan before heading back to New Delhi on July 13.

This article attempts to capture in minimum possible words the importance of the new Great Game that is unfolding in Asia.

This visit assumes significant importance for India as India is seeking to increase its influence in the region. It is to be noted that India’s only overseas air base is in Any, Tajikistan.

This article is the first in the series on Central Asia.

Introduction

Central Asia has been a very strategic area for the world powers for a long time. The Great Game term was coined for the struggle for power influence between Russia and Britain. Later the USA replaced Britain in the struggle and Afghanistan became the playground. In the 21st century, it has become the arena for a very complex interplay of influence seeking between six countries: Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. . With every country in this surge for power taking its own route, it shall be interesting to see the unfolding of the events. Russia continues to exert its importance in the region in political and economic domains while planning to maintain its stronghold in its backyard.

Central Asia

Central Asia is located in the center if you look at the world map. It is resource rich region with resources running into trillions of dollar and we are talking about proven reserves here. It has a population of around 92 million and sits at the crossroads of many regions. South Asia, China, Iran and Middle East and Turkey.  Following are the countries which are comprised of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kirgizstan.

The region has a strategic location at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and the Far East; surrounded by some of the fastest growing economies in the world including China, Russia and India who are not only investing in the region but are competing for the leading role.

Historical Context:

Central Asia is the region from where Aryan, Scythians, Hoons and Kushans came and it is known for its trade routes.

From Alexander riding east in the time of the ancient Greeks, to the Mongol and Timurid hordes that swept across the west as a wave during the medieval period, the territorial significance of the region has never been in doubt. The vitally strategic region of Central Asia, which links the key zones of Asia and Europe together, has historically taken center stage due to its geographic significance.

 The Old Great Game

The term “Great Game” was used by nineteenth-century British imperialists to describe the British-Russian struggle for position on the chessboard of Afghanistan and Central Asia

 It’s the name given to the power struggle between Russians and British. The British sought to increase their influence in Afghanistan to keep Russians at bay. British wanted to prevent them, particularly during the Peter of Russia’s time from reaching close to India.

The New Game and Why Central Asia matters

The Central Asian Republics derive their importance through two major factors. The region on the whole has continued to have geo strategic value, not only due to its location at the center of the Eurasian landmass, but also due to the political significance of the countries that border Central Asia.

Significance of Central Asian Countries

  1. Economic Significance

 Central Asian republics can be vital trade links between Europe and Asia.

Kazakhstan

The well-endowed state in the Caspian region is Kazakhstan; ranked 6th in the world in terms of natural resource reserves.  Out of 110 elements of the periodic table, 99 were discovered in Kazakhstan including oil, gas, uranium, zinc, tungsten, barium, silver, lead, chromites, copper, fluorides, molybdenum and gold.

Moreover, it has proven oil reserves of 30 billion barrels

Turkmenistan 

Turkmenistan has the world’s 4th largest gas reserves at 7.5 trillion cubic meters.

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan follow close with 2.41 trillion and 1.84 trillion cubic meters respectively (Ibid.). Thus, collectively the Caspian region contains about 46 percent of the world gas resources

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan 

 Though not very rich in resources but they have huge water wealth that can be tapped for hydroelectric potential. Water is the biggest source of power production in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has an abundance of water resources and the energy potential of its mountain rivers is estimated at 163 billion kilowatt-hours (bkwh) per year.

 The Kyrgyz Republic is home to the 8th largest gold mine in the world and exports a large quantity. Tajikistan also has the potential for production and export of aluminum. There is also agricultural potential in the region with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan producing large amounts of high-quality cotton. Uzbek cotton is considered the best in the world.

Terrorism

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Recently a decorated army officer of a central Asian country joined IS (Islamic state). Given its located at the crossroads of Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan, and it Muslim population which is moderate but needs to be prevented from extremist ideologies it becomes important.

Summary

For the reason stated above, Central Asia commands a great importance in India’s diplomacy, India’s energy security, India’s security. India’s efforts to get the membership of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) have gathered steam and Modi’s visit to central Asia  becomes extremely important. We would be covering more on this in the articles to come.

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Contributor: Sachin Diwaker

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