Sino-India Great Game heats up in Central Asia

Indian FM S Jaishankar with Indian ambassadors of Central Asian countries

Photo credit Twitter S Jaishankar

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By Manish Anand

New Delhi, July 30: The Central Asia was a theatre of a great rivalry for the British India and Russia in the 19th century and afterwards for one-upmanship to gain dominance.

The region was ruled by the warlords, who had made names for their brutalities, enslaving the British and the Russian spies.

The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk tells vivid tales of the Indo-Russian rivalries played out by the brave Kashmiri spies and equally adventurous British military young military officers.

The British Indian army had already lost bitter battles in Afghanistan, and India had to be defended from a resurgent Russia.

That is history, but the theme remains the same, as the players have changed.

In place of Britain, a resurgent India has to protect its strategic interests from the march of the Chinese wherewithal, while Russia remains in a shell.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is the big push of Beijing to gain hegemony on the trade routes dominated by the Central Asian countries, overlooking Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, giving way to Europe.

India put its bet on the Chabahar port in the South-eastern Iran, while pouring billions of dollars in Afghanistan to blunt the Pakistani strategic depth in Kabul.

With the Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, India has built deep cultural ties.

Films and songs of Raj Kapoor still remain the ways of the romantic expressions of the people in the Central Asian countries.

Emperor Ashoka has been historically documented to have deep ties with the region, as the Central Asia since the integration of the human civilization stays on the famed Silk trade route.

The one positive spinoff of the rivalry of the British India and Russian rivalry was the abolition of slavery, including freeing of the sexual slaves, while the Russian women mostly had been stated to have been the victims.

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar hopes that the Central Asian countries, which form the core of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), will help purge the scourge of terrorism in all forms.

Irony, however, remains that Pakistan, the world’s greatest patron is also part of the SCO, and its foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto also took part in the ministerial deliberations to finalise the agenda for the Heads of the Council meeting in Samarkand on 15-16 September.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have to see his Pakistani counterpart Shebaz Sharief in Samarkand even while India-Pakistani bilateral relations remain frozen.

Additionally, Modi will also have to shake hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, while the line of actual control in the eastern Ladakh remains tense, with an eyeball to eyeball situation.

India has much of goodwill in the Central Asian countries on account of its cultural ties, education, healthcare, traditional medicines, while New Delhi was a friend on a phone call away during the devastating trails of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing vaccines and medicines.

While Russia recedes in a shell, struggling to keep its economy afloat amid debilitating western sanctions, China is gaining dominance in the Central Asian region, and that will be India’s top concerns for years ahead.

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