New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host the first India-Central Asia Summit in “virtual” format on January 27, a day after Republic Day, with the participation of the Presidents of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. New Delhi announced on Wednesday that the leaders will take steps to take India-Central Asian ties to “newer heights” and they are also likely to discuss “the evolving regional security situation”, especially with regard to Afghanistan.
The summit -- the first engagement of its kind between India and the Central Asian republics at the top leadership level -- is taking place in the virtual format due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Presidents of these five Central Asian nations had earlier been invited to New Delhi to be chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations this year, though there had been no official announcement or confirmation of this. These plans were later dropped due to the raging third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India.
The five Central Asian countries are the key to India’s connectivity and trade initiatives through the sea-land route via Iran. The strategic importance of this energy-rich region has also increased for New Delhi considerably after the fall of Afghanistan to the Pakistan-backed Taliban in August last year. The recent violence and turbulence in one of these nations -- Kazakhstan -- has also been closely monitored by New Delhi. All five Central Asian nations have a secular character and are wary of instability, particularly after the events in Afghanistan last year. All five nations also have close ties with India’s time-tested friend and decades-long strategic partner Russia.
In a statement, New Delhi said: “The first India-Central Asia Summit is a reflection of India’s growing engagement with Central Asian countries, which are a part of India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’. ... During the first India-Central Asia Summit, the leaders are expected to discuss steps to take forward India-Central Asia relations to newer heights. They are also expected to exchange views on regional and international issues of interest, especially the evolving regional security situation.”
Pointing out that Mr Modi had paid a historic visit to all Central Asian countries in 2015, the MEA said that “subsequently, there have been exchanges at high levels at bilateral and multilateral forums”. It said: “The inception of the India-Central Asia Dialogue at the foreign ministers’ level, the third meeting of which was held in New Delhi from 18-20 December 2021, has provided an impetus to India-Central Asia relations. The participation of the secretaries of the National Security Councils of Central Asian countries in the Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan held in New Delhi on 10 November 2021 outlined a common regional approach on Afghanistan. The summit is symbolic of the importance attached by the leaders of India and the Central Asian countries to a comprehensive and enduring India-Central Asia partnership.”