Geopolitics

India and the New Great Game in Central Asia
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Issue Vol. 33.3 Jul-Sep 2018 | Date : 03 Nov , 2018

Role of the US, Russia and other Powers in the New Great Game

The Americans and the Russians have been majorly involved in the region as extra-regional and most important powers in the Central Asian region. While USA has been involved primarily to suit its business, economic and financial interests, for Russia, the region is its strategic backyard and a sphere of influence. For Russia to even qualify as a major power post-1991, the region is of utmost importance for its own interests. That is why Russia sees the involvement of any other major powers in the region with deep suspicion. In the last decade, China has made huge inroads to the Central Asian economy. The gas pipelines, the rail networks and the One Belt One Road (OBOR) has made China a key player in the region, apart from Russia and USA which has invested a lot in developing the infrastructure and connectivity projects in the region.

With so many players involved in the region, there are bound to be conflicting interests as well as convergence of interests.

Today, the SCO is growing as a regional grouping which came out of its earlier version known as the Shanghai 5. Recently, the inclusion of India and Pakistan as full-fledged members of SCO’s 18th Summit at Qingdao in China, has entrenched Central Asian geo-politics. The smaller players involved in the region are Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. With so many players involved in the region, there are bound to be conflicting interests as well as convergence of interests. This is because each nation, at the end of the day, is competing for the same space to yield power.

In this situation, India has the potential to exert its influence in the Central Asian geo-political space. Indian goods and services are well received in Central Asian markets. Secondly, the monopoly of China in their markets would see a lot of competition if India manages to enhance its exports in the region. The Chabahar and International North South Transport Corridor will go a long way in increasing India’s geo-economic interests in the region. Finally, unlike other powers in the region who threaten to dominate or hegemonise the Central Asian space due to physical proximity or their intentions to do so, India is literally a non-threatening power and is perceived so by the people of the region. The air connectivity between India and all the five Central Asian countries, bypassing Pakistan, is another way in which India is reaching out to the region. To sum up, at present, India’s future prospects in Central Asia seems to be reasonably good in the region.

Conclusion

The New Great Game in Central Asia is very much different in its nature and character from the old ‘Great Game’. The players in the game have increased, the dynamics of the game have changed, the rules are different and most importantly, the international order is different. Central Asia as a region has gained huge prominence in the last two decades. Also, the fundamental difference in the Great Game and the New Great Game is that earlier, the major powers were ‘Empires’ while in the latter case, they are ‘Nation States’. “While the Empires tried to conquer and wrest physical control of the region’s territory from local rulers, warlords and chieftains, the Nation States are attempting to influence other sovereign states in an increasingly multi-polar and complex world” (Cooley, 2012). In the 1990s, the dissolution of the Soviet Union coincided with the re-discovery of the energy resources of the Caspian Sea, attracting to the region, a range of international oil companies including American and Russian. Eventually, the Caspian Basin became a point of tension between the major powers, especially between the US and Russia.

The role played by countries such as the US and Russia is very different from the role played by India and will continue to be so.

Today, every major power is looking at Central Asia as a region of great potential which it wants to use for its own benefit. The role played by countries such as the US and Russia is very different from the role played by India and will continue to be so. This is because of the geographical placement of these countries and their distance from the region, the history they share with the region and the different perceptions of each of these countries in the eyes of Central Asian Republics. To conclude, Central Asia holds an important position in international politics today, much more than any time in the past.

References

  1. Ahari, M.E., The New Great Game in Muslim Central Asia, Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1996
  2. Blank, Stephen, ‘Central Asian perspectives on Afghanistan after the US withdrawal’, Afghanistan Regional Forum, November 2012, (2), Central Asia Programme, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University
  3. Cooley, Alexander, Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2012
  4. Edwards, Mathew, ‘The New Great Game and the new great gamers: disciples of Kipling and Mackinder’, ‘Central Asian Survey, March 2003, 22(1), pp 83-102
  5. Flint, Coling, Introduction to Geopolitics, London and New York: Routledge, 2006
  6. Freire, Maria Raquel and Roger E. Kanet, Key Players and Regional Dynamics in Eurasia: The Return of the ‘Great Game’, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  7. Hill, Fiona, ‘The Caucasus and Central Asia’, Policy Brief, May 2001, (80), The Brooking Institution.
  8. Kaushik, Devendra, ‘The new geopolitics of Central Asia, Russia, China and India’, Contemporary Central Asia, 1999, III (2)
  9. Kleveman, Lutz, The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia, New York: Grove Press, 2004.
  10. Macfarelane, Neil S., The United States and regionalism in Central Asia’, International Affairs, May 2004, 80 (3), pp. 447-61
  11. Megoran, Nick and Severa Sharapova, Central Asia in International Relations: The Legacies of Halford Mackinder, London, Hurst & Company, 2013
  12. Patnaik, Ajay, Central Asia: Geopolitics, Security and Stability, New York, Rutledge, 2016

Notes

  1. It refers to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, also referred as the dissolution of USSR, which was one of the two superpowers during the Cold War
  2. Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling’s works of fiction include The Jungle Book, Kim, and many short stories, including “The Man Who Would Be King
  3. East India Company started as a monopolistic trading body, the company became involved in politics and acted as an agent of British imperialism in India from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century.
  4. It refers to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, also referred as the dissolution of USSR, which was one of the two superpowers during the Cold War
  5. 9/11 refers to the series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the United States on September 11, 2001.
  6. The Afghan Northern Alliance, officially known as the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, was a united military front that came to formation in late 1996 after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan took over Kabul
  7. The term “emerging powers” is a broad and somewhat vague category or shorthand for countries that are thought to be in the process of increasing their economic (and political) power faster than the rest.
  8. Economic diplomacy is traditionally defined as the decision-making, policy-making and advocating of the sending state’s business interests.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Martand Jha

Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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