TERROR TALKS TOP PM’S CENTRAL ASIA VISIT

NEW DELHI (TIP): As Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads for Central Asia, the first PM to visit all the five ‘Stans’ in one shot, India is hoping political outreach, counter-terrorism cooperation, energy and soft power will overcome the challenge of physical connectivity with the region.

PM is expected to visit Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on his way out to Russia, and Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on his return journey. The growing threat of extremist terrorism, of the kind unleashed by Islamic State is perceived as a clear threat by these states — they have watched with concern, thousands of their young citizens travelling to Iraq and Syria to join IS. The prospect of IS taking root in these countries is real. India hopes to engage these countries in a deeper conversation on counter-terrorism. “They are worried about radicalization, and we hope to be able to cooperate and look for solutions together,” said government sources.

Energy has always been an attractive draw between India and Central Asia but there is the challenge of getting that energy to India. That will be the focus of conversations in both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Many pipelines, including TAPI, have been the subject of intensive discussions, but there has been little progress so far. India already has a uranium supply agreement with Kazakhstan.

The Afghanistan situation post-2014 will be a common thread in the discussions. There is a resurrection of Taliban forces, even in their regions which means all countries involved have an interest in Afghanistan’s immediate future. The bigger aim behind Modi’s visit is to reclaim politically a part of India’s near neighbourhood. India has always believed this to be its strategic backyard, but in recent years, Central Asia has built very close trade and security links with China. India cannot possibly replace China, or compete with such a large presence, but New Delhi hopes to be a viable alternative in the region.

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