India’s Energy Diplomacy in Central Asia

India’s Energy Diplomacy in Central Asia


Aman Kumar

India and the Central Asian Republics share a relationship that is not just modern and dynamic but also historical. India’s outreach to Central Asia can be traced back to the famous silk route, which not only catered to India’s trade requirements but also ensured a favorable dispersion of ideas and thoughts along with religion and philosophy. A close cultural, musical and literary engagement between the two regions always existed even during the Soviet era. Thus, it should not come as a surprise when the President of Uzbekistan sings the famous song ‘Aawara Hoon’ pictured on Raj Kapoor.

End of the Cold War and emergence of new independent and sovereign countries, however, led to a neglect of the region but India has made considerable efforts lately to have a fruitful engagement with the region. The recent participation of India’s Foreign Minister in the first India Central Asia Dialogue in Samarkand, Uzbekistan carries forward India’s agenda in the region. India’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has only made this engagement more inclusive and result oriented.

India, today, has a very wide range of stakes, opportunities and concerns in the region covering security, energy, economy among other geopolitical interests. This article looks at India’s engagement with the region in general and energy cooperation in particular. Geologically Central Asia contains some of the world’s largest oil and gas fields making it a natural partner for India’s growing energy needs. Along with fossil fuels and gas reserves the CARs also possesses hydropower capabilities which are an added advantage not just for the region but also for fulfilling India’s energy demands.

A cursory look at the BP Energy Outlook 2019 gives very insightful understanding of India’s energy needs and thus a constant and compulsory requirement to engage with the Central Asian Republics. India accounts for more than a quarter of net global primary energy demand growth between 2017-2040. A whopping forty two percent of this demand is met through coal leading to a roughly double carbon emission by 2040 thus questioning India’s role in the climate change mitigation. Gas production has grown but still it fails to keep pace with demand thus requiring more gas imports in the coming future. As a result, India needs to have a sustained engagement with the CARs to diversify its energy basket and ensure a favorable energy supply.

The Central Asian Republics like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are rich in hydrocarbon resources, while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are endowed with hydropower potential. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are noted for gas resources and Kazakhstan is primarily an oil producer.[1] Kazakhstan, with its 3 percent of the world’s proven hydrocarbon reserves, ranks ninth in the global rankings of the oil producing countries. It is home to around 30 billion barrels of proven crude reserves and has sizeable gas reserves. Turkmenistan ranks as the world’s fourth largest gas giant after Russia, Iran and Qatar. It is home to the world’s second largest gas field, containing 26 trillion cubic meters of the fuel. Uzbekistan too has substantial gas deposits of its own.

The Central Asian Republics constitute the extended neighborhood of India and thus security, prosperity, and stability of this region is in India’s interest. It was unfortunate that India’s relation with the region went on back foot after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But, considerable engagements have started taking place between India and CARs and the visit of PM Modi to the five countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) in July 2015 has only reiterated India’s commitment to the region.

India happens to be an energy deficient country that is dependent mainly on West Asia which, however, has various geo political, geostrategic and geo-economic challenges for India. This monopoly of Middle East as a principle supplier of energy resources needs to be taken care of, thus, requiring India to consider the Central Asian Republics as an alternative source for its growing energy demands. As a result, subsequent governments of India have not failed to engage themselves with the region. India’s ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ has led to a significant cooperation in the field of energy. The TAPI or the Tran-Afghanistan Pipeline is a major step in this direction. Once completed, the pipeline will transport natural gas from Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. This is being seen as a modern continuation of the ancient Silk Route and has the potential to bring peace and prosperity in the region.

The greater energy cooperation between India and the CAR is however not free of its challenges. The lack of direct connectivity between the two regions is a major roadblock in this direction. There has been a renewed push for regional connectivity from Indian side. India has been investing heavily in various infrastructure projects such as Chabahar and North South Transport Corridor so as to ensure a proper supply line. Trilateral transit and trade corridor agreements signed by some CARs with India, Afghanistan and Iraq along with the establishment of an international transport and transit corridor through Ashgabat Agreement is a welcoming step in the region.

China’s increased engagement with the CAR’s regarding their energy resources has also led to an informal competition between the two giants of Asia. India’s engagement with the Central Asian Countries is something not desired by Pakistan. Hence, China being a close ally of Pakistan is slowly becoming a challenger in the region and thus can threaten India’s energy interest given its potential of heavy investments in the region.

There is no doubt that India is very much keen of building a sustained and engaging relationship with the CARs. India, in the recent years, has ensured regular exchange of delegates along with high level visits in order to end the long neglected role of India in sustaining the relationship after the end of the Cold War. The CARs have the potential to emerge as a trusted source for satisfying India’s blooming energy needs and thus energy can become the central pivot around which the entire relationship between India and CARs can revolve smoothly.

[1] Sudha Mahalingam,”India-Central Asia Energy Cooperation” in K. Santhanam and Ramakant Dwivedi, eds., India and Central Asia: Advancing the Common Interest (New Delhi: Anamaya Publishers, 2004), p. 113.

The author is a Master's student at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.