Common visa regime for Central Asia: One More Step toward Regional Cooperation

Mohammed Janesar 12 December 2018

         

  

Regional Cooperation is one of the major challenges for Central Asian countries internally as well as externally due to its land locked geographical dimension and attribute. Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (Central Asian region or CAR) formed a separate entity on the world map after the disintegration of Soviet Union in 1991. Located in the heartland of the Asian continent, the region is stretches from Russia in the north to Afghanistan in the south and from China in the east to Caspian Sea in the west. It is a land locked region in the world and form a part of largest Eurasian land.

Undoubtedly, the region has enormous strategic significance due to its geographical location and abundant of natural resources in terms of oil and gas. The region is located between two de jure nuclear power countries that is China and Russia and not far away from India and Pakistan which is also a de facto nuclear power country in the world. Central Asian region is a linchpin between two largest landmasses, Europe and South Asia which provides ample amount of opportunities for Central Asia itself as well as vice-versa in terms of market, extraction of natural resources in general and connectivity in particular. In terms of area, Kazakhstan is a largest country in Central Asia which has its ninth position in the world while Uzbekistan is the most populous country in the region. Central Asia has emerged as one of the vital region in the world energy market1. Kazakhstan’s total proven offshore and onshore field’s reserves constitute about 37 billion barrels of oil and 3.3 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of natural gas2 while Uzbekistan produces 3 million tones oil per year and has 81.4 million tonnes of oil recoverable3. Turkmenistan has 82.2 million tonnes of oil recoverable and its produces 12.7 million tonnes of oil per year4. Both Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are dependent for their oil and gas from other Central Asian countries, but they are capable to produce hydro electricity in the region.         

Due to their geographical, geostrategic and geo-economic significance the region has become a battle ground for major powers including the US, Russia, and China. These attractive features of this region compelled India to reconsider and reframe their sluggish foreign policy approach towards Central Asia during the mid 1990’s. Consequently, India has taken a major step regarding their policy towards CAR region and introduces the concept of ‘Extended neighborhood’ in their foreign policy approach which also include Central Asian region. Later, India has enacted a Look West Policy towards West Asia and Central Asia to enhance cooperation with the region. Currently the region has dubbed as the area of ‘New Great Game’ which is a term used to describe the geopolitics of Central Asia and Eurasian region. Whereas India is consider as a latecomer in this region and emerging as a counterweight player in the geopolitics of the region. India has deep historical and cultural relation with all of the countries in Central Asia and established political and economic relation after the end of cold war. Despite of warm and friendly relation, India is facing a number of challenges to inroads in to the region which includes security challenges; geopolitical challenges posed by Pakistan and China in the region; and most important is direct connectivity with the region. So far, India has taken a number of connectivity initiatives towards the CAR. For instance, India is cooperating with Iran to create a trade route between CAR and Iranian port of Chabahar, located on the south-eastern part of the Oman Sea and Indian Ocean5. Moreover, India is also cooperating trilaterally with Iran and Russia to develop International North-South Transport Corridor which will connect Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran. As a part of ongoing rehearsal regarding regional connectivity, India has decided to introduce singe visa norm for all Central Asian countries as reported by Swarajya website6. It will facilitate visa holders to visiting any CAR countries on a single visa basis. It will also enhance the people to people contact and tourism sector between India and Central Asia. Moreover, it will further develop India’s soft power presence in Central Asia. Even though India has strong soft power presence in the region since antique. It will also fulfill one of the objectives of India’s Connect Central Asia policy which was launched in 2012 towards CAR to develop strategic, economic and connectivity with the region.             

The creation of the single visa regime for Central Asian region is scheduled to be discussed at the next meeting of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Tourism Council, which is scheduled to held in Samarkand (a city in Uzbekistan) in 20197.

References:-

  1. Aliyeva, Kamia. (2017, September 25). Central Asian nations vow for strengthening cooperation. Retrieved from https://www.azernews.az/region/119474.html
  2. Chen, X., & Fazilov, F. (2018). Re-centering Central Asia: China’s “New Great Game” in the old Eurasian Heartland. Palgrave Communications4(1), 71.
  3. Oil in Uzbekistan. Retrieved from https://www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/country/uzbekistan/oil/
  4.  Oil in Turkmenistan. Retrieved from https://www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/country/turkmenistan/oil/
  5. Balooch, M. (2009, July). Iran and India’s cooperation in Central Asia. In China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly (Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 25-29).
  6. (2018, December, 06). Single Visa for All Central Asia? Schengen-Like ‘Silk Road’ Visa May Soon Facilitate Your travel. Retrieved from https://swarajyamag.com/insta/single-visa-for-all-central-asia-schengen-like-silk-road-visa-may-soon-facilitate-your-travel
  7. Ibid

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