The High Level International Conference on Connectivity held in Tashkent on July 16th underlined the significance of connecting the two primary regional complexes in Asia – South and Central Asia. However India underlined the necessity for moving beyond regional politics and building trust.
Speaking at the plenary session of the conference, “Central and South Asia: Connectivity” on July 16, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishanker underlined the politics in the region particularly in South Asia which has prevented seamless connections between the two sub regions.
Outlining how India recently has progressed towards the Indo Pacific Jaishanker said, “We have progressed in the Indian Sub-continent and eastwards to the Indo-Pacific. Our horizons today extend from Vladivostok to the Gulf and East-Africa. However, the challenges towards Central-Asia and Eurasia remain to be addressed”.
Chabahar has been the focus on Indian expansion towards Eurasia and Central Asia. He highlighted, “India has taken practical steps to operationalize the Chabahar port in Iran. This provides a secure, viable and unhindered access to the sea for Central Asian countries. Its efficacy is now clearly proven. We have proposed to include the Chabahar port in the framework of INSTC. The formation of India-Uzbekistan-Iran-Afghanistan Quadrilateral Working Group on the joint use of Chabahar port is a welcome development”.
On the challenges faced he outlined the role of politics and said, “Economic growth is universally driven by 3Cs: connectivity, commerce and contacts. All three need to come together to ensure regional cooperation and prosperity. The challenge we face is that politics, vested interests and instability can be formidable impediments to its realization. There are lessons too from our experiences that need to be understood. The real issues are of mindsets, not of disputes. Blocking connectivity in practice while professing support in principle benefits no one. A one-sided view of trade rights and obligations can never work. No serious connectivity can ever be a one-way street”.
Trust is another factor that Jaishanker highlighted stating, “But, at the end of the day, building connectivity is an act of trust and must, at the minimum, conform to international law. Respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity are the most basic principles of international relations.
The reference to politics is alluded towards Pakistan wherein the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement allows only one way movement of goods from Afghanistan to India and that too up to the Wagah border. Returning vehicles go empty as goods transit is not permitted.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have recently extended the agreement by six months so there is some hope of review of the terms for permitting trade from India as Pakistan has been professing that it is moving beyond geo-politics to geo-economics.
The reference to trust is likely to be an indicator towards China with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor [CPEC] passing through areas of Jammu and Kashmir now under Pakistani occupation being the main hindrance. This has remained a contentious issue in India China relations.