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Tag Archives | Central Asia

In Pragati: The return of the Ottoman

In the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I review Turkey’s transformation from a status-quoist, West-leaning, secular-nationalist state to one that seeks to become a regional power and indeed, a “Muslim superpower.” Its confrontations with Israel, most recently over the Gaza flotilla raid, involvement in negotiating a way forward in Afghanistan, and its attempts, along with Brazil, at brokering a deal with Iran over the nuclear impasse all point to a Turkey eager to break the shackles of the Kemalist ideology that has guided it since its birth in 1923.

But Turkey’s geo-strategic reorientation has consequences far beyond its region.  Indeed, its involvement now in Afghanistan, historic cultural and military ties to Pakistan and its location at the crossroads of Central Asia’s energy trade make it very important to India.  How must India view Turkey’s rise and what opportunities and challenges exist in India’s bilateral relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative, endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys in Ankara.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati ( PDF; 1.3 MB)

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant
to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s
rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and
energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically
has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with
Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to
the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s
assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and
provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A
member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative,
endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of
force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India
from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence
of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys
in Ankara.
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The Kabul Park Residence attacks

India’s short term option — don’t flinch.

Today, six Indians died in suicide attacks perpetrated by the Taliban at the Park Residence and other guesthouses in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This included Indian consulate staff, an ITBP constable and two Indian army officers.  At least five other individuals were injured in the attack, including five Indian army officers.

This blog, along with others, has in the past articulated what India must do in Afghanistan to protect its national interests.  In the August 2008 edition of Pragati, Sushant K Singh argued in favor of a larger Indian military presence in Afghanistan and warned of the long term consequences were India to rely exclusively on “soft power.”  In January 2010’s Pragati, I put forth a case for India to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), thereby assisting in raising a credible unit to act as a bulwark against the Taliban and Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.  Commentators like Harsh Pant have opined that India must stop hedging its bets on the US and must work with other actors like Russia and Iran to engage all sections of Afghan society.

However, despite repeated attacks against Indians and Indian interests in Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh’s government appears disinclined to readjust its Afghanistan strategy.  Today’s attack will not likely force a rethink on how to engage with Afghanistan either.  Given India’s self-imposed shackles and the likelihood of continued attacks against Indian soft targets in the war ravaged nation, India has but one option at its disposal in the short term, and that is to not flinch.

Attacks such as these may lead to calls for India’s level of engagement in Afghanistan to be reconsidered.  However, downgrading Indian presence in Afghanistan is the surest way to convey to the military jihadi complex (MJC) that it can force Indian action through terror.  The MJC feels that it is at an advantageous position:  it has outlasted the Americans,  reinserted itself (and the Taliban) into Afghanistan’s political space and the top leadership of the Quetta Shura — despite the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mohammed Younis — remains mostly intact. The MJC will enjoy a tremendous psychological boost from the notion that it forced the Americans and the Indians to withdraw from Afghanistan.  It will seek to replicate the model by imposing severe costs on India in Kashmir and the mainland.

It is wrong to suppose that India’s involvement in Afghanistan is merely about power projection and easy access to energy rich Central Asia.  India is facing an existential battle and denying the MJC “strategic depth” in Afghanistan is a critical component to India’s own internal security. Therefore, if India insists in not altering its ill-conceived stance vis-a-vis hard power in Afghanistan, it must at the very least maintain its investment profile in the country, while fully expecting to be targeted repeatedly and frequently by the MJC.  Only the Indian government can explain how this is a better alternative to the introduction of Indian hard power in Afghanistan.

It is significant that India’s reconstruction efforts have earned it tremendous goodwill in Afghanistan.  An opinion poll () conducted in Afghanistan in January 2010 by BBC/ABC/ARD indicated a 71% favorable view of India, as opposed to 15% favorable view of Pakistan.  In the meduim- to long run, India must work with the US, regional actors and Afghans across the political gamut and ensure that an effective and credible counterweight to the MJC and the Taliban is sustained in Afghanistan.

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India and Kazakhstan: Impetus Needed in Relationship

Nursultan Nazarbayev greets Vajpayee in Almaty (2002)

Nursultan Nazarbayev greets Vajpayee in Almaty (2002)

On January 26, New Delhi will host Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the Republic Day celebrations. India and Kazakhstan first established diplomatic relations following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Nazarbayev made his first official visit to India in 1992, and in 2002, following his second visit to New Delhi, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee attended the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Almaty. At that time, Nazarbayev’s efforts in defusing India-Pakistan tension (emanating from the 2001 Parliament attack) were roundly praised. After the defeat of the NDA in the 2004 general elections, contacts between India and Kazakhstan, at the head of state level, have tapered off, until now.

India’s strategy towards Central Asian countries has been no different than its strategy towards African nations, and can be only summarized as “playing catch-up with the Chinese”. In this new “Great Game” of the century, India is consistently assuming the role of “Johnny-come-lately” to China in Central Asia. Indeed, China already has a fairly robust multi-dimensional relationship with Kazakhstan, as it does with other CIS states, on account of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) membership. Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia and shares borders with Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. President Nazarbayev is a Soviet-era leader who maintains fairly rigid control of the state, despite it being a democracy, by letter of law. Weary of China and Russia’s undue influence in the SCO, Kazakhstan has pitched for a full Indian membership in the council. India’s trade with this bludgeoning economy stands at a paltry $128 million (2007), contrasted against China’s $6 billion (2005) economic engagement with this Central Asian republic. This idle wasting of time is a shame, considering Kazakhstan’s phenomenal economic growth since the 2000s, which includes a staggering average GDP (absolute) growth of 9.5% from 2004-2007.

Kazakhstan’s strategic location along the Caspian Sea is hard to overemphasize. The Caspian Sea has the world’s third largest oil reserves, by some estimates, containing 200 billion barrels of oil, and 236 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. Cognizant of the desperate energy situation in India, Oil and Natural Gas Limited (ONGC) is seeking a 40% share in Kazakhstan’s Satpayev oil exploration sector (with Russia’s blessing) in the Caspian, after getting outbid by China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) for the acquisition of the oil company PetroKazakhstan.

However, Nazarbayev’s chief mission in New Delhi will be to ink a deal to export uranium, in the wake of the end of “nuclear apartheid” against India. India’s own uranium reserves stand at about 115,000 tons, most of which is low grade. Kazakhstan is currently the second largest producer of uranium, producing about 12,000 tons (2008); the country is likely to overtake Australia as the single largest producer of uranium by 2011. For India, inking the nuclear deal is a consummation devoutly to be wished. While nuclear energy constitutes only 3% of our total energy production, this figure will likely increase to 25% by 2050, as India seeks to reduce its reliance on “dirty” coal. India has already inked similar deals with Canada and France.

India should also continue to boost cooperation with Kazakhstan on the regional security front. The Kazakhs have expressed a desire to establish a naval fleet to guard its interests in the Caspian. They have looked to India for assistance and we have been happy to oblige, much to the chagrin of Russia. As I will point out in a later article, India’s engagement with Central Asia is going to ruffle feathers in Moscow and put us at odds with Russia; as a country with growing economic and political clout, India must at once expect this to happen, and at the same time not be hindered in our quest to establish new alliances despite the grievances/protests of our old allies.

Yet another important dimension of engagement on security should be partnering on intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism issues. Uyghur warriors, many of whom come from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, have been fighting Chinese rule in Xianjing province. Although present on a smaller scale, there is a growing component of Uyghur and Uzbek fighters in Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) terror umbrella; that many of these fighters have seen action against Pakistani forces in South Waziristan should be a matter of interest to India.

India’s growing population and economy need sustainable sources of energy — the problem of inadequate power supply is already acute, and will likely get worse if remedial measures aren’t taken and alternative sources aren’t identified posthaste. In doing so however, both India and Kazakhstan need to not neglect other equally important areas of mutual interest. In this regard, our very one-sided, military dominated relationship with Russia should serve a reminder on how not to go about forging new partnerships.

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