India’s Changing Approach towards Central Asia and the Caucasus after the Afghanistan Debacle
By: Gulshan Sachdeva
India’s ambition to raise its profile and connect with Central Asian neighbourhood was reflected through its ‘Extended Neighbourhood’ and ‘Connect Central Asia’ policies. Prime Minister Modi further elevated these policies through India’s SCO membership and other institutional mechanisms. India’s strategy towards the region has been linked to its Afghanistan, China and Pakistan policies as well as Russian and U.S. designs. With the Afghanistan debacle, the earlier connectivity strategies are no longer valid as a Taliban-Pakistan-China axis will further strengthen the BRI profile, in which India has not participated. In coming years, New Delhi will work with Central Asian partners to safeguard the region from negative repercussions of the Taliban takeover in terms of radicalization, increased terrorist activity and drug trafficking.
Central Asia and the Caucasus have long been part of the Indian imagination because of old civiliza-tional linkages and cultural connections. After the Soviet break-up, new geopolitical realities and geo-economic opportunities further influenced Indian thinking in the 1990s. The emergence of new independent states opened opportunities for energy imports as well as trade and transit. There were also worries of rising religious fundamental-ism. Therefore, developing political, economic and energy partnerships dominated New Delhi’s “ex-tended neighbourhood” policy in the 1990s. Alt-hough India established close political ties with all countries in the region, economic ties remained limited. An unstable Afghanistan and difficult India-Pakistan relations created problems for di-rect connectivity. New Delhi tried to resolve the issue through working with Russia and Iran via the International North-South Trade Corridor (IN-STC) and its tributaries. Due to the U.S.-Iran ten-sions and stagnating India-Russia trade, this op-tion did not prove very effective. In the mean-while, the Chinese profile in the region increased significantly.