Wednesday, 11 September 2002

INDIA AND CENTRAL ASIA: THE RETURN OF STRATEGY

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By Stephen Blank (9/11/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: These economic and strategic initiatives clearly are shaped by strategic concepts that the Indian government is now implementing.  In this regard, India has rediscovered its prior history, including that of the British Raj, which articulated very clear strategic concepts regarding Central Asia. Historically the Raj kept a close watch for threats emanating from Central Asia and Afghanistan that could threaten British sovereignty in India and the country's integrity, among them Islamic insurgency.

BACKGROUND: These economic and strategic initiatives clearly are shaped by strategic concepts that the Indian government is now implementing.  In this regard, India has rediscovered its prior history, including that of the British Raj, which articulated very clear strategic concepts regarding Central Asia. Historically the Raj kept a close watch for threats emanating from Central Asia and Afghanistan that could threaten British sovereignty in India and the country's integrity, among them Islamic insurgency.  Today India has had to return to this process.  Pakistan, as part of its ongoing challenge to India in Kashmir and South Asia generally, has consistently tried to establish a 'strategic depth' in Central Asia.  It supported not just the anti-Soviet rebels in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation there, but since then the Taleban, and through them the myriad extremist and terrorist groups that destabilized Central Asia.  Those groups also established ties to terrorists and insurgents operating in Kashmir and helped generate an insurgency campaign there that dates back to 1989, and has increasingly been characterized by terrorism.  This terrorist war, added to the events of September 11, 2001 and especially the attacks on India's Parliament and Kashmir in December, 2001, has awoken India to the urgent need of devising a comprehensive strategy to stabilize Central Asia and prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorism and insurgency as well as a strategic platform from which Pakistan could threaten Indian interests. This realization of the need for a strategy built upon existing and parallel trends: Indian investments in Central Asia, the need for a viable infrastructure to connect the area to India in order to maintain long-term stable trading relations, and New Delhi's rising economic and military power.  India has also simultaneously improved its relations with Russia, China, and America, not least because all these states, despite their other differences, now share a compelling interest in extirpating Islamic terrorism from their countries and adjoining strategic regions like Central Asia.  Meanwhile India's economic growth and rising strategic perspective have led it to carve out for itself a major strategic and maritime role throughout Asia, not just the subcontinent.  Aligned to its vision of playing a broader Asian role, particularly in tandem with America, is the awareness that India's energy needs are growing rapidly along with its economic development.   

IMPLICATIONS: Consequently since 2000 several new strategic initiatives have been launched beyond improving ties to Moscow, Beijing, and Washington.  With Russia and Iran, India has joined to build a North-South corridor for trade and energy which will not only strengthen Iran and Russia but also enhance access to energy and trade from those countries and Central Asia.  Kazakhstan has already indicated its interest in joining this network and others will probably follow.  India has also become a major investor in the multinational (U.S.-Japanese-Russian) energy projects in Sakhalin in order to diversify its access to energy and strengthen ties to the other three partners.  India has also dramatically increased its economic agreements with Central Asian governments and shown a much grater interest in investing in Central Asian energy projects, most notably in Kazakhstan. In the security sphere, it has endorsed an open-ended stay for American forces in Central Asia, placed enormous pressure on Pakistan to desist from further support for extremism and terrorism by mobilizing its troops and keeping them mobilized on the border, and increased its arms purchases from Russia.  But the purpose of those arms purchases is not simply to acquire modern weapons and know-how but also to support the further growth of an already impressive military-technological base.  This goes beyond India's space and nuclear capabilities to include an ever growing indigenous capacity for producing weapons.  And as part of that capability it is now selling weapons to Central Asian states, particularly Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Probably, this aspect of Indian penetration and influence in Central Asia will keep growing for India will need to sustain that industry over time. Nor will Central Asian governments soon feel entirely comfortable about their security situation and military capabilities.

CONCLUSIONS: One sees in India's diversifying influence components of an overall economic and security strategy.  The aim is not just to stabilize Central Asia but also to play a larger role throughout Asia in both defense and economics by establishing strategic partnerships with key players.  At the same time these initiatives also aim to prevent India from falling into energy dependency on any one source, and to maintain coercive pressure on Pakistan until it decisively reorients its policies and tactics.  Lastly an officially unstated but visible goal is to restrain and rival the growth of Chinese power and influence while simultaneously finding ways to cooperate with Beijing, e.g. against Islamic extremism, in order to limit that competition.  India's moves in Asia generally and Central Asia in particular clearly show the emergence of an overarching and overall strategic concept.  However the war on terrorism and the Indo-Pakistani crisis play out, one certain consequence of developments since September 11 is the steady rise of Indian power, wealth, and influence in Central Asia and Asia generally.  Since we are at the start of that process rather than near its completion we cannot fully forecast the ramifications of that development.  But we can be sure that they will be profound and long-lasting.

AUTHOR BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013. The views expressed here do not represent those of the US Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. Government.

Copyright 2001 The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst. All rights reserved.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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