India and the Silk Road Not Taken

January 14, 2013 Topic: EconomicsTrade Region: India

India and the Silk Road Not Taken

New Delhi has an enormous opportunity in Central Asia.

And in fact, India is set to increase its military footprint across Central Asia. Begun in 2011, India has forged military ties with Kyrgyzstan, providing training to the Kyrgyz Armed Forces inside India. Next year, India has scheduled several joint military exercises with Uzbekistan, where India worries anti-Indian Islamic radicalism is being incubated. Tajikistan is particularly important to India’s military strategy—the country has shared borders with Afghanistan and China, and New Delhi and Dushanbe both harbor concerns about metastasizing terrorism and narcotic trafficking in Afghanistan. Perhaps most significantly, Tajikistan is home to the Indian Air Force’s Farkhor Air Base, India’s only military base outside of India.

Closer military cooperation between India and Central Asia is welcome news to Europe and the United States, which can anticipate any such alliance putting pressure on China and Russia.

But if closer strategic cooperation opens the door to further interpersonal and business-to-business relationships between India and Central Asia, the result could resemble something along the lines of how India has introduced itself as a foreign policy factor in other places in the world, from Malaysia to East Africa: the export of India’s booming educated workers, a burgeoning diaspora of globalized professional talent. Pipelines are good for handcuffing countries together. But the export of human capital can turn locked wrists into something more like a tight grip.

Ilan Greenberg is a journalist and visiting public policy scholar at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, International Security Studies Program, in Washington, DC.