Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on India’s strategic engagement in Central Asia. Part one examined ties with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Part two examines ties with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Two decades of Indian engagement with Central Asia have produced relationships that are now poised to move beyond the energy and transit sectors toward more-diversified commercial investments. However, this evolution takes place against the backdrop of NATO’s imminent withdrawal from the region, at a time when India still sees national armies as the most sustainable institutions in Central Asia. In this context, Indian Army chief Gen. V.K. Singh’s recent visit to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan signals the maturing of India’s ties with the two largest Central Asian republics. Deeper strategic cooperation with Astana and Tashkent will not only help New Delhi secure its economic engagement with both countries, but also increase its own geopolitical space more broadly.
Singh’s November visit was the first ever by an Indian army chief to Uzbekistan and only the second to Kazakhstan -- with the first coming 16 years ago. But it is less indicative of a new initiative than of existing relationships being taken to the next level. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are both major beneficiaries of India’s Technical and Economic Cooperation program, with the aeronautical engineering courses it offers proving particularly popular with air force pilots from both countries. More broadly, training quotas at Indian defense academies offered to the Central Asian republics should rise steadily over the coming years.