India and the Central Eurasian Space.

Author:Stone, Leonard


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and due to India's security and increasing energy needs, New Delhi has been active in Central Eurasia, just as China has been, although the communist power was quicker off the mark in post-Soviet Central Eurasia than India. According to Olcott, all of Central Eurasia's leaders are "aware of the economic and geopolitical power that New Delhi would come to exercise as its economy continues to grow." (1) Visits to the region by senior Indian political figures have been treated as significant occasions. For example, Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao made an official trip to Kazakhstan in May 1993; Indian Foreign Minister Salman Hurshid visited Kazakhstan in June 2004; Indian Minister of Oil and Gas V. Ramamurati visited Kazakhstan in March 1999; and Indian Foreign Minister Omar Abdulla visited Uzbekistan in September 2001. Indeed India has strong diplomatic presence in the region. But from the standpoint of the Indians, the Central Eurasian market is small, not to mention the transport and political difficulties of working within it, that is, of problems associated with transporting goods across Afghanistan and Pakistan. (2)

India was a high profile state in the region well before the collapse of communism because of its long standing special relationship with the Soviet Union. But links between India and Central Eurasia--especially security and trade - go back many centuries. Significant and deep cultural contacts between Central Asia and South Asia have existed, and Levi from a less Eurocentric perspective has covered this ground extensively. (3) Dale's path breaking work deepened the chronological framework of studies on the Indian Diaspora in Central Eurasia. (4) Markovits, furthermore, focused as a matter of interest on one grouping (from Sind), and examined its global dimensions from the mid-18th to mid-20th centuries. (5)

Presently India has shown an interest in Central Eurasia engages in shaping and organizing the Central Eurasian Space, although to a lesser extent than some of the other major geopolitical players, such as Russia, or geostrategic players, such as the United States. The Central Eurasian space, moreover, is subject to shifting geopolitical realities. It is a space that is both contested and (re)defined, and one that warrants close scrutiny and examination. India's new found interest in Central Eurasia is now obviously based on a different footing. The US is a major player in the region, and with its natural resources Kazakhstan is the "prize." But Kazakhstan is of necessity close to Moscow, although it has oil-exploration and other energy contracts with Western and Chinese companies. With regard to the former, Kazakhstan wants to maximize Western support in terms of investment without alienating Moscow; with regard to China, however, Kazakhstan's fears of Chinese domination can be traced back to the Soviet era and to the Kazakhs' earlier nomadic history.

A large number of Kazakhs and other Muslims live in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, just over the border. Direct rail and road links have been opened to Urumqi in Xinjiang, and Chinese traders in Kazakhstan are prominent in the thriving barter between the two nations. However, Beijing remains nervous about any contact that would encourage separatist or nationalist sentiments among its own "captive peoples". For its part, Kazakhstan has expressed unease about the large numbers of Chinese who have bought property and settled in the republic since the end of Soviet rule. Kazakhstan also has reacted angrily but without effect to Chinese nuclear tests at Lob Nor, China's main testing site, located within 300 kilometers of the common border. However, bilateral relations remain stable and Kazakhstan wants access to the Chinese market just as China wants access to Kazak oil and gas. In 2004, Kazakhstan signed a deal allowing China to build an oil pipeline to the Chinese border.

As in Soviet times, in contemporary Moscow's geopolitical thinking, Kazakhstan is rooted in the "near abroad" and has never been seen to be part of Central Asia, or "inner Asia." (6) It is the other neighboring states that constitute Central Eurasia. Central Eurasia, in short, is a shifting geopolitical space and it is this geographical issue along with India's relations with the region, with its South Asian neighbors, the US and China that constitute the focus of this article.


The Caucasus is of course a distinct region, just as Central Asia is, as evidenced in a plethora of historical and anthropological accounts. Yet the overriding, contemporary supra-context into which these two neighboring regions are plunged remains: Central Eurasia.

Central Eurasia remains an open-ended and contested territorial categorization. Central Eurasia as a macro-region consists of the five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan), the three Transcaucasian states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) plus their cultural and economic connections with such neighboring regions as southern Russia (including southern Siberia), western China (Xinjiang), non-Pashtun northern Afghanistan, and north-eastern Iran. This inner circle is complemented by an outer circle of major geopolitical players including Russia, Iran proper, and Turkey. Another outer ring, but one which overlaps with the second one, contains China and India, followed by yet another outer ring containing the two major geostrategic players in the region; the US and the European Union.

But what about Pakistan and its location? Is Pakistan to be included? Furthermore, traditionally boxed into South Asian Studies as a regional power, to what extent can India now be seen as a Central Eurasian player? In addition, to what degree do the security complexes of Central Eurasia, the Middle East or Western Asia, South Asia, South East Asia and North East Asia overlap? What about Mongolia? Is it still to be confined within a conceptualization of "Inner Asia" or included within Central Eurasia itself? According to the Soviet conception Inner Asia is Central Asia--Tsentral 'naia Aziia. (7)

The Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS) at Harvard offers its own, somewhat idiosyncratic or eccentric categorization of Central Eurasia which is not found in the bulk of research on Central Eurasia. This map includes the Mongolian plateau (Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, southern Siberia, Kalmyks) and the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas (Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim). It also incorporates the oases of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uighur), the Steppe Turks (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tatars, Bashkirs), Afghanistan and Iran, Turkey and Azerbaijan and the Finno-Ugric peoples of Hungary, Finland, and Estonia. (8)

Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim should not constitute part of the Central Eurasian map and neither should Hungary, Finland or Estonia unless the idea of a Greater Eurasia is brought to bear. A "Greater Eurasia" that does indeed include these countries and should therefore include India and Pakistan and which, according to Cutler, stretch "from Spain to Sakhalin and Spitzbergen to Singapore."9 In short, Central Eurasia is a porous region, in part an imagined territory and in other parts a contested political space. Central Eurasia is a "subjective vision," to use Black's phrase, and remains ensnared in geographist ideology. (10)


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