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The first India-Central Asia Summit: A decisive push to revive regional linkages

The most consequential decision taken at the Summit is to institutionalise the framework for India-Central Asia cooperation at a regional level and to hold Summits every two years

A momentous step to significantly reinforce partnership between India and Central Asia was taken at the First India-Central Asia Summit hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, in a virtual format on January 27.  

A highly ambitious and visionary Delhi Declaration was issued at the conclusion of the Summit. Some of the major areas identified for enhanced focus include trade and investment, connectivity, development cooperation, including capacity building, security and defence, culture and people to people contacts.

The most consequential decision taken at the Summit is to institutionalise the framework for India-Central Asia cooperation at a regional level and to hold Summits every two years. The next Summit will hence be held in 2024. Such summit meetings in future are likely to take place in person and not through the virtual medium. This will provide opportunity to the leaders to have one-to-one meetings and take their bilateral relations forward. In addition, it was agreed to hold regular meetings between Ministers of foreign affairs, trade and culture, as well as Secretaries of National Security Councils to advance cooperation in these areas. Meetings at the foreign minister level are already taking place under the rubric of the India-Central Asia Dialogue which was launched at Samarkand, Uzbekistan in January, 2019. The third meeting of this forum took place in December, 2021 in New Delhi.

India-Central Asia Relations:

In his Opening Remarks, PM Modi asserted that all countries are perturbed about developments in Afghanistan and share the same concerns and objectives. He identified three objectives of the Summit:  First, recognize that cooperation between India and Central Asia is essential for regional security and prosperity. Second, create an effective structure for India-Central Asian cooperation by establishing a framework of regular interactions at different levels and among various stakeholders. And, third, create an ambitious roadmap for cooperation by adopting an integrated approach for regional connectivity and cooperation for the next 30 years.

These objectives have been more than fully met in the discussions as reflected in the Delhi Declaration.

Decisions on some major issues discussed are as follows:

Afghanistan: The leaders reiterated their strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan. It was affirmed that all countries are on the same page regarding peace and security in Afghanistan. This was reflected in the consensus declaration issued at the end of the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue in November, 2021 at which Secretaries of National Security Councils of all the five Central Asian countries, in addition to their counterparts from Russia and Iran, were present. Common objectives of all the countries include, ensuring establishment of a truly representative and inclusive government, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, preserving the rights of women, children and minorities, and providing immediate humanitarian assistance. The leaders agreed to continue close consultations on Afghanistan and decided to establish a joint working group on Afghanistan at the senior official level.

Trade and Investment: The Leaders noted that the current level of trade and investments between India and Central Asian countries was far below the true potential. They emphasised making concerted efforts to boost trade and investment in sectors like ‘’medicine, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, education, information technology, business process outsourcing (BPO), infrastructure, agriculture and processing of agricultural products, energy, space industry, textiles, leather and footwear industry, gems & jewellery etc.’’

They welcomed the establishment of direct contacts between the States of India and Regions of Central Asian countries. They encouraged the India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC) established in 2020 to accelerate its efforts to promote economic and commercial engagement between India and Central Asia. They noted the proposal to create an India-Central Asia Investment Club under ICABC to promote investment opportunities in each other’s countries. PM Modi proposed organising a round table on connectivity and energy cooperation and a separate forum for interaction between chambers of commerce and industry of India and Central Asian countries. All these proposals were welcomed by the leaders of Central Asia.

Connectivity: The Leaders noted the importance of connectivity for enhanced trade and commerce between India and Central Asian countries.Central Asian leaders supported India’s proposal to include the Chabahar Port and noted Turkmenistan’s proposal to include the Turkmenbashi Port within the framework of INSTC. The leaders took positive note of the significant Conference on Central and South Asia Connectivity organised by Uzbekistan in July, 2021. Turkmenistan stressed on the importance of the TAPI gas pipeline project to enhance connectivity. India welcomed the interest of Central Asian countries to utilise the services of Shahid Beheshti Terminal at Chabahar Port in Iran and proposed establishment of a joint working group on Chabahar port. This was appreciated by the Central Asian countries.

Terrorism: The leaders affirmed their commitment to combating terrorism and inter alia countering those ‘’providing support, using terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism, terror financing, dissemination of a radical ideology..’’ etc. This formulation explicitly refers to the cross-border terrorism and proxies engaged by Pakistan against India.

In addition to the decisions mentioned above, it was also agreed by the leaders to showcase Buddhist exhibitions in Central Asian countries; commission an India-Central Asia dictionary of common words; hold joint counter-terrorism exercises; arrange visit of a 100-member youth delegation annually from Central Asian countries to India; and organize special courses for Central Asian diplomats.

A few words on the hurriedly organised China-Central Asia Summit on January 25, two days before the India-Central Asia interaction, would not be out of place. Information about this Summit was shared with the world a day before the meeting i.e on January 24. It is not clear as to why China felt compelled to organise this summit in such haste and at such short notice. Did it feel threatened by the India-Central Asia meet and wanted to upstage India by being the first to hold such a Summit? If so, it smacks of nervousness and lack of confidence in its partnership with Central Asia. Because of the rush in which the Summit was held, it was ill-prepared. The results of the Summit, which are quite under-whelming, demonstrate that clearly. Just one example will suffice to illustrate this. Chinese President Xi Jinping offered an assistance of US$500 million to the Central Asian States. As against this, India had offered a Line of Credit (LOC) of US$1 billion to Central Asia at the virtual India-Central Asia Dialogue at the level of foreign ministers in October, 2020. In addition, India had offered an LOC of US$448 million for four infrastructure projects to Uzbekistan during President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s visit to India in 2018. An LOC of US$200 million was offered by India to Kyrgyzstan during the External Affairs Minister’s visit to that country last year. If China was indulging in a game of one-upmanship with India, as appears to have been the case, it reflects poorly on its ambitions to be a global power.


The First India-Central Asia Summit represents a culmination of India’s sustained diplomatic engagement with the Central Asian countries in recent years, starting with the historic visit by PM Modi to all the five Central Asian States in 2015. The Summit interaction reaffirmed the significance in current times of the centuries-old close civilizational, cultural, trade and people-to-people linkages between India and Central Asian countries.

The critical decisions enshrined in the Delhi Declaration have the potential to provide a quantum boost to engagement between India and Central Asia. It will behove upon all the stake-holders to ensure that the decisions taken are implemented in real time so that the benefits accrue to the people of all the participating countries. Only then will it be possible to build a long term, comprehensive, and enduring India-Central Asia partnership based on mutual trust, understanding and friendship that the leaders have envisaged.

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