IN a significant outreach to Central Asian countries, India hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit in virtual format on 27 January 2022. The summit was attended by Presidents of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan. Prime Minister Modi and the Central Asian leaders discussed cooperation in areas of trade and connectivity, development cooperation, defence and security and, in particular, on cultural and people to people contacts. The leaders agreed to institutionalize the Summit mechanism by holding it every two years. They also agreed on regular meetings of Foreign Ministers, Trade Ministers, Culture Ministers, and Secretaries of the Security Council. An India-Central Asia Secretariat in New Delhi would be set up to support the new mechanism.
The summit was a welcome development. India and Central Asia have shared deep cultural relations going back centuries. But India’s ties with Central Asia have always been hampered by a lack of geographical contiguity. Pakistan and China in between have severed India from the region. This is why a friendly relationship with Pakistan could possibly give India access to Central Asia.
Last year, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan had in a speech laid out his vision of an integrated, peaceful South Asia. However, this was not the first time the prospect of regional connectivity had been envisioned whereby India and Pakistan are foreseen to not only trade with each other but also with central Asia, In Kashmir, China’s Border Roads Initiative project has drawn a lot of attention for its alleged potential to boost regional connectivity which in the long term may also help aid India, Pakistan reconciliation. Many observers have predicted that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will have very consequential impact on the overall framework of India-Pakistan relations. The project, as it progresses is expected to introduce new geopolitical factors which in the near or long term will help shape the future of South Asia.
Already, the new factors being unleashed by the project are straining existing geo-politics of the region. However, for now, we are only witnessing the beginnings of this shift. And considering India and Pakistan have not been able to mend their relations over the past seven decades, the prognosis for the future of their relations can’t be optimistic. But who knows new geopolitical factors and the great possibilities of a normal bilateral relationship might force a decisive rethink after all. Here's hoping that India and Pakistan do go back to dialogue and engagement and, for once, try to seriously sort out their longstanding issues. And for that, the leaders of both countries need to act in a statesmanlike way.
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