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Thursday July 09, 2020

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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours!

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Central Asia has for many reasons been regarded as the gateway to India, geography being merely one of them. Through history it has of course been the route from which most invaders came. Over the last almost thousand years Turkic invaders came to India from the centre of Asia. Driven by the tales of untold riches that India possessed these nomadic tribes drawn from the various warring Turkic clans came to India and never really left. They got integrated, right down to food and language, into the vast social fabric of India. Even the last of them and the longest rulers amongst them, the Mughals, became Indianised. And like all of those before them, vanished from the throne and power.

These invaders were merely following the path that for millennia before them had sent forth traders and pilgrims from the Indian side of this, then, Trans-Asian highway. India sent its valued goods and its remarkable Buddhist pilgrims, deep into Central Asia. Buddhism and commerce cemented Indian influence in the sparse plains and mountains of these hardy people. In that sense they were also the gateway from India. And now there is an opportunity, nay a necessity, to make that a reality again.

The driver to that reality can once again be trade and commerce. But for that exchange to happen and succeed, there must first be realisation of the peculiarities of this region. Lying between South and Central Asia is the long suffering landscape of Afghanistan. It is indeed a bridge country, connecting both regions of the Asian land mass and remarkable for what it has absorbed from both, in terms of culture, cuisine and commerce. It is after all commercial interests that dictate India redevelop inroads into Central Asia. It is the corridor that connects India to most parts of Europe. But for Southern Europe all other parts are easier connected by road from India. However, for a road corridor to happen certain steps need to be taken on the guerrilla landscape before trade can start rolling, again.

Events in Yemen and the continuing turmoil in Somalia, point to one basic fact long pushed under the carpet – it is possible that the Red Sea-Suez shipping routes can come to be blocked. Simply the absence of governance can cause that to happen. That would be devastating. So a safe land route needs to be developed, but for that to happen Afghanistan needs to be stabilised far more than it has been in the recent years. Even if Pakistan continued to play spoiler to Indian trade to Central Asia and beyond, the Iranian port of Chabahar provides an ideal entrepôtto Central Asia and thence to Europe. For starters though, Afghan security and stability is a must and in which project India needs to cooperate with all stakeholders, near and distant. The Central Asian Republics have long been in the shadow of Russian interests, as vassals, colonies or unwilling partners in the Soviet dream gone sour.

Russia has a certain privilege in these CARs which cannot be faulted. There is thus a continuity in the affinity they have toward India. This needs to be developed and there is no greater occasion to revisit this region than the first anniversary of the election victory of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance part two. This is, thus, the next frontier to be overcome by the NDA government. It has numerous achievements to its credit, chief amongst them being that India’s defence, security and foreign policies have been put back on the rails.

As the engine begins its next journey there is a vital need to align it towards the former gateway of India and reopen routes, barriers and bridges, thus forming a gateway from India. The impact of this gateway will be seen all the way to the various capitals of Europe and beyond. The NDA government has tackled many a challenge head-on and successfully, but there is still much more that needs to be done. Chief amongst them is to marry geography and politics, so as to realise vital national interests. Geographically the closest challenge that remains is the one posed by the CARs and their Russian allies. Overcoming this could well be the biggest feather in the cap of the current NDA government for years to come.



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