India has substantial interest in securing reliable energy supplies through Central Asia

NEW DELHI: India is all set to give mega push to its Central Asia outreach buoyed by its SCO membership with a slew of initiatives from big visits to expansion in defence partnership as President Ram Nath Kovind plans his maiden trip to the region soon and Delhi prepares to host the Uzbek President.

While Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will undertake a three-nation trip -- Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu will visit Tashkent for exploring new areas of trade, senior Ministers from the region are frequenting India’s national capital as they seek greater engagement with India amid Chinese inroads in the region.

While Swaraj will visit region next month, Prabhu will be in Tashkent this month. India-Eurasian Economic Union FTA talks involving parts of Central Asia is also a priority for India as it seeks wider footprints notwithstanding difficulties faced by Iran – India’s primary gateway to Central Asia and Eurasia.

Meanwhile, Kazakh defence forces for the first time will be part of UN peacekeeping mission and has sought Indian assistance. 120 Kazakh soldiers will be part of Indian contingent in UN peace keeping mission in Lebanon from this October. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also exploring joint defence production with India. While Kazakhstan may seek to collaboration in sectors of armoured vehicles, optical sphere and military boats, Uzbekistan is inheritor of Soviet Union’s biggest military complex in the region.

Last week when Uzbek Deputy PM Suhrob Rustamovich Kholmuradov visited Delhi after AIIB meet in Mumbai, he was given audience to seven Ministers in one single day. Both sides are hoping to harness untapped potential in diverse fields including agriculture, Pharmaceutical, textiles, construction, Information and Communication Technologies, innovation, tourism during the Uzbek President’s trip. The President of Kazakhstan plans a visit to India early next year.

India hopes to play role of balancer between key powers Russia and China in the Eurasian landscape, according to analysts who follow the region. This would enable it to make expand its presence in landlocked but resource rich Central Asia despite no direct land access to the region. PM Narendra Modi met three Central Asian leaders separately on the sidelines of SCO Summit in China last month.

While Beijing’s economic prowess and geographical contiguity has enabled it to make huge inroads in Eurasia, India views itself as a stabiliser and security provider in the region. New Delhi’s growing financial clout also makes it an attractive economic power for many SCO member states and observers.

India has substantial interest in securing reliable energy supplies through Central Asia. Besides oil and gas, energy-hungry India is eyeing imports of uranium from Uzbekistan while such supplies have been arriving from Kazakhstan.