Asia and Eurasia
Central and South Asia: Some Models of Regional Relationships

Uzbekistan, like many of its partners in the Central Asian region, is interested in further expanding cooperation with many partners and economic groups, including the countries of South Asia. Thanks to such cooperation, it can jointly develop food and agroindustry cooperation projects, update and increase high-level technological potential, writes Valdai Club expert Ulugbek Khasanov for the 3rd Central Asian conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.

When addressing today’s extremely complex international relations processes, many countries face difficult challenges defending their own foreign policy position, focused on protecting their national interests amid the devaluation of international systemic mechanisms.

Today, the very issue of a realistic and objective assessment of such interests, as well as their relationship with history, geography, economic feasibility and reality, is becoming more and more relevant; they have become a priority for most countries throughout the world.

The first requirement for an effective foreign and domestic policy is a constructive awareness of one’s role in the world and the region, which makes it possible to formulate and pragmatically implement the goals of national development. In regional processes, a completely new prism of interconnections is being created, the main goal of which is to create an atmosphere of trust, mutual understanding, neighbourliness, and cooperation, both with its traditional partners throughout the Eurasian space and directly in the Central Asian region.

In this context, the foreign policy model of rational choice is to understand the changing approaches to building sustainable and open relations aimed at creating a new neighbourhood in Central Asia; this has encouraged many scholars to reconsider traditional views on the process of developing relationships throughout Eurasia in the context of further expanding the entire range of regional relationships and beyond.

New relationships

Amid the current conditions, most of Central Asia seeks to pursue a pragmatic policy, primarily based on the interests of its members, which understand the instability of traditional instruments of international relations. In this context, it is of particular interest to understand the experience of some South Asian countries in developing rational diplomacy and dealing with security issues.

The improved relationship between Central Asia and Afghanistan has set new parameters for India’s efforts to bring peace to the country. Uzbekistan’s new initiatives to seek more active participation in solving global and regional problems at various venues and formats of meetings of the heads of state, particularly the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of Central Asia, expand opportunities for cooperation with many countries in achieving common goals. This is evidenced by fundamentally new provisions in the new edition of the Constitution of the Republic, emphasising the independent, sovereign and multi-vector nature of its foreign policy. All this is illustrated by the data of the Statistics Agency under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, according to which “ there are trade relations with 204 countries of the world. The largest volume of foreign trade turnover was recorded with the Russian Federation (18.6%), China (17.8%), Kazakhstan (9.2%), Turkey (6.4%), the Republic of Korea (4.7%), Kyrgyzstan ( 2.5%), Germany (2.3%), India (1.4%), etc.”

Uzbekistan, like many of its partners in the Central Asian region, is interested in further expanding cooperation with many partners and economic groups, including the countries of South Asia. Thanks to such cooperation, it can jointly develop food and agroindustry cooperation projects, update and increase high-level technological potential. The choice of trading partners is now based on the opportunity offered and the viability of the business. At present, the Central Asian region is rather a political group that brings together the interests of states. It can also be called an economic community.

India’s example

The renewed efforts to develop Euro-Asian relations have awakened India’s interest in long-term cooperation. A good example in this context is the politics of modern India. During its G20 presidency, India has been well-aware of the obstacles and has remained consistent in its commitment to partnering with other G20 countries to address the serious challenges of debt, economic development, food and energy security and, in particular, the environment. One of our main goals will remain the reform of the management of international financial institutions.

At the recent Pacific Quartet Summit in Tokyo, India reaffirmed its commitment to the policy of non-alignment by refusing to support anti-Russian sanctions, which once again confirmed its status quo and prevented it from directly participating in conflicts or using them in games for the benefit of other countries. Its diplomacy is focused on a greener future, improved communications, digital technology and a cost-effective healthcare system. It sent thousands of tons of food and humanitarian aid to Myanmar, while providing multibillion dollar loans to Sri Lanka for energy supplies, essential goods and trade.

Traditionally, it proceeds from the principle of respect for the political choice and preferences of its partners and neighbours, recognizing the unconditional advantages of such an approach.

In previous decades, India utilized the potential of multilateral diplomacy, preferring it to the neutral status of international relations. Today, it is acquiring new financial and industrial opportunities to protect its economic interests at various international venues, which reflects its interest in creating a solid technological base for its commercial competitiveness.

Despite its rather difficult relationship with China, Indian political circles believe that it should cooperate more actively with Chinese business. The trade turnover between India and China is stable, although the volume of bilateral investments does not exceed $5 billion.

Attracting more Chinese investment and seeking a mutual opening for Indian services would open up better opportunities for the Indian economy in the coming years.

India and Russia continue to consistently support each other on the platform of the General Assembly and the UN Security Council. In previous years, India has strengthened military cooperation with Russia, and India’s state-owned companies have invested in Russian gas and oil. Crucially, Moscow proved itself to be a reliable partner of India, supporting it in the development of a national system of nuclear deterrence.

Initial joint development projects with Russia to build new ballistic submarine technologies have been followed by five or six new strategic deals. However, the factor causing some “jealousy” on the Indian side is the growing dynamics of Russian-Chinese relations in various fields.

Several strategies have been adopted to achieve these goals, including the development of India’s economic and military power, as well as the promotion of contacts between the peoples of India and Pakistan through commerce and trade. This vision dominated the politics of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government and Manmohan Singh’s second term. The current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy towards Pakistan is seen by many as promoting efforts in support of the India-Pakistan peace process.

The geopolitical crisis in Eastern Europe reoriented the vector of implementation of trans-regional transport projects towards the activation of the North-South corridor, although it somewhat slowed down the processes of economic integration within the EAEU, in general, the pace of Eurasian economic cooperation remained stable. Despite the perception that some of India’s immediate neighbours deny India physical access to Central Asian countries, India’s trade relations are not limited to either air travel or trade through the Iranian port of Chabahar.

The first informal summit of Central Asian leaders, held in Astana in March 2018, was followed by another one in early 2022. It highlighted the current desire for regional cooperation and reaffirmed the value of learning from India’s experience in finding common solutions to difficulties. India’s interest in sustainable cooperation has increased as a result of renewed efforts to strengthen Eurasian ties.

Achieving this goal will largely depend on the activity of Indian diplomacy in Central Asia. This, among other things, explained and motivated India’s entry into regional operating organizations acting in cooperation with the countries of Central Asia, especially the India+5 format, which share a similar approach to maintaining the regional security system in a stable state, namely: Russia, Iran and the Central Asian countries. Intensified cooperation among the states of Central Asia in the field of industrial and rural development, food production, small and medium-sized businesses, pharmaceuticals and information technology can also bring tangible benefits to stakeholders.

Complicated Alternative

Amid close collaboration with Central Asian partners, new approaches have been developed in an effort to promote the economic recovery of war-torn Afghanistan. The parties are interested in a dialogue with the Afghan government in Kabul on the issue of expanding humanitarian assistance to its people and ensuring stability on its territory. Such measures will undoubtedly become useful in developing measures of social support for the population of the country and will serve to establish sustainable relations with neighbouring countries.

Recently, India and Uzbekistan agreed to launch a joint feasibility study to lay the groundwork for negotiating a preferential trade deal between the two countries, which will generally facilitate trade with Central Asia, as well as provide access to the markets of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Pharmaceuticals, mechanical equipment, automotive parts, services, and optical instruments and other equipment were among the main export commodities. From Uzbekistan, India mainly imports fruits and vegetables, juice products and extracts, lubricants, fertilizers and services. India’s economic ties with Uzbekistan include medicines, automotive components and hospitality.

Such factors are pushing the countries of Central Asia to reassess the economic, diplomatic and transport potential of the entire region. In this prism, India could join the Uzbek-Azerbaijani “South Caucasus — Zangezur Corridor — Central Asia” project, which could use the capabilities of the Iranian port of Chabahar, and also become an active party to the Trans-Afghan Corridor project, participating in its implementation together with Uzbekistan. The construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway will not only create a new, shorter route to the lucrative markets of South Asia, but will also help bring peace to Afghanistan. The project has already been supported by many countries both inside the region and beyond it. Leading international financial institutions have expressed their interest in financing the construction of the railway. In such a scenario, the question of the source of funding will not be an insurmountable problem. At the same time, India’s participation could contribute to the overall goal of creating a new business environment in the region.

When studying such processes in modern international relations, it is important to develop an understanding of their essence and logic. Most international experts start by considering various factors that have influenced the country’s response intentions in a particular situation, the nature and level of organization of its strategic positions in possible negotiations with a potential counterparty. One could study the difficulties in choosing a typology of actions.

The careful elaboration of the argumentation, which provides for probable steps to be taken in each specific situation, will make it possible to explain the sequence of subsequent actions of the state in foreign policy and the system of international relations.

The method of explaining events occurring in the international arena by attempting to recreate hypothesised situations that could potentially arise for states or politicians in international studies is directly related to the behavioural principles of the foreign policy of states and mainly to the psychology of international relations. 

Academic publications, political materials, articles in the press, and unofficial interviews are far from being a complete layer of information demonstrating how modern political thinking, especially foreign policy, comes from a “behavioural” conceptual model that studies the potential of problems and features of regional and interregional relations.

P. S.: In the wide variety of approaches to modern diplomacy, the model of “rational choice” or the so-called “rational adaptation” comes from maximising its usefulness under certain restrictions. In international relations, resorting to rational choice means choosing the most effective alternative, and minimising the likely and inevitable political, economic and military, and most importantly, reputational losses.

The rational actor model is reduced to a choice between several given alternatives, each of which is associated with a set of consequences, and the subject’s utility function allows it to order a set of consequences according to his preferences. In a world of uncertainty, each participant tries to maximise “expected utility”. The unity on which the analysis is based: government action as a form of choice. Events taking place in the international arena are considered actions chosen by the state or national government. It is the government that chooses the actions that allow it to maximise its potential in accordance with its strategic goals and objectives. Solutions to strategic problems are the main categories in which the analyst shows what needs to be explained and how.

The need for a more stable and fair balance of political and economic processes in the region stimulates the search for cooperation and connections in Central Asia. The entire region would benefit from this situation if it acted as a rational partner.

The states of Central and South Asia could better manage their ties, unlock and develop their potential for economic growth, influence international affairs, and assert their independence and identity through regional cooperation within the framework of cooperation with such players.

The emergence of a new political climate in the region demonstrates that India and the countries of Central Asia are working more closely with each other to maintain peace and stability in the region, which has become an objective reality. Openness with one’s closest neighbours also lays the foundation for sustainable development around the world.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.