At an online summit, leaders of India and the five Central Asian republics discussed ways to further develop ties as New Delhi and Beijing seek to extend their clout in a region perceived by Moscow as being part of its traditional sphere of influence.
“Central Asia is central to India’s vision of an integrated and stable extended neighborhood,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as he hosted the January 27 summit with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The gathering came two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired a similar meeting with the five Central Asian leaders, during which he pledged $500 million in aid over the next three years to the countries of Central Asia to bolster their economies and security.
At the India-Central Asia summit, the leaders discussed proposals to increase cooperation in areas including “trade and connectivity, development cooperation, [as well as] defense and security,” according to a statement issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry.
The statement said they reiterated their “strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan with a truly representative and inclusive government.”
“We are all concerned about the developments in Afghanistan,” whose humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated since the Taliban returned to power in August, Modi said.
“In this context too, mutual cooperation among us has become more important for regional security and stability,” the Indian prime minister added.
Modi and the five leaders decided to set up a joint working group on Afghanistan for providing aid to the war-torn country to tackle the humanitarian crisis and the issue of international recognition of the Taliban, an Indian official said.
They also agreed to set up a joint working group to develop Iran’s Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman.
Afghanistan and Central Asian countries lack overland connectivity with India, which has invested in developing and running Chabahar port to promote regional trade.
India is keen to make Chabahar a rival to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is being developed with Chinese investment.
Russia was not present at the summits hosted by India and China.
On January 26, the chairwoman of the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, said that her country “will stand as an unbreakable wall to defend the security and sovereignty of our partners.”
Valentina Matviyenko cited the deployment of troops of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to Kazakhstan earlier this month in the wake of unprecedented anti-government protests.
Troops from the military alliance left the Central Asian republic by January 19.