Central Asia has been cradle of civilization. It has also been a meeting ground of various cultures - Slavic, Sinic, Turkic, Persian, Arab and Indian. As a crossroad between East, West, North and South, it has enjoyed a uniquely important location in Asia and served as the route for exchange of goods and merchandise as well as religion and culture. Mackinder’s notion of Eurasian ‘Heartland’ was just a conceptualization of its significance. Not surprisingly the region has been an arena of geopolitical and geo-economic contestation among great powers. It witnessed confrontation between the British and the Russian Empires in the nineteenth century, popularly known as Great Game. It was part of Tsarist Russia and Soviet Union for more than a century, which brought fundamental changes in the political, economic and socio-cultural life of the area. The Soviet disintegration in 1991 lead to the emergence of not just five independent countries, but a new geopolitical region in the global politics. The five countries went through difficult transition from a state controlled command economy to a market economy and from a one party system to various shades of political regimes, which have successfully maintained a largely stable and secular polity and followed balanced and nuanced foreign policy. Surrounded by two great powers Russia and China, under the shadow of unstable and terrorist prone Af-Pak region and in the vicinity of Iran and the Arab world, the achievements of the Central Asian countries can be described as commendable.
The journal World Focus has strived to contribute to the academic discourse with Indo-centric international affairs. This special issue of the journal is on ‘Geopolitics of Energy in Central Asia’. It presents selection of articles by experts, scholars and researchers. Deliberating on energy related issues in Central Asia, the articles touch upon varied interests of regional and global players in Central Asia - competition as well as cooperation. Central Asia’s energy potential has been critically assessed and the challenges that lie ahead have been highlighted. India’s possible options in finding fruitful engagement with the Central Asian states are dealt with. Some non-traditional themes have also been covered. The impact of oil-gas based economies on environment and society has been discussed.
Central Asia is endowed with significant resource of oil and gas, primarily available in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, to a lesser extent. Though it is no match for the oil and gas resources of the Persian Gulf, the Central Asian region is important as alternative sources of energy, and because of its proximity to the large energy consumers (China, Europe and India). This has made it the focus and locus of diverging interests of the big powers. Russia had dominance over Central Asia’s energy market. It was through Russian pipelines, that the oil and gas of Central Asia were transported to Europe, even in the post-Soviet era. With the rise in energy prices and significant investment in infrastructure related to the energy sector, the region witnessed a relatively stable economic growth. The countries tried to reduce their dependence on Russia, and went on to forge energy ties with other countries. China has become major importer of oil and gas from the region. It has also invested extensively in the energy related infrastructure in the region. The US involvement, unlike the other major powers, is more because of its strategic interest. The growing trend towards the renewable sources of energy has also gained prominence in the region. Central Asian states have significant potential of hydroelectricity. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, being upstream countries, are the major hydroelectricity suppliers.
India despite having strong cultural and historical ties, has failed to make a significant presence in the region (much of it can be attributed to the lack of direct land connection). There has been limited Indian investment in the Central Asian energy market. Thus India is in no position to challenge the dominance of China and Russia in the region. For better connectivity and to access the gas reserves of the region there are two ambitious projects - International North South Corridor (INSTC) and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. How fast the former can be operationalized and becomes economically viable and whether the latter will see the light of the day are moot questions.
Finally I thank all the paper writers for contributing to the special issue and the publishers for giving me this opportunity. I hope readers will find this issue interesting and informative.
Experts feel that Central Asian energy markets reflect largely the Global trends. In the past few years production of oil witnessed a fall among the oil rich countries in the region. Production of gas grew primarily due to the demand for the same in the neighbouring markets, especially China. In the years ahead the oil and gas industry is likely to face three different scenarios. First, Central Asian energy policies will give importance to reaching out to the international market.You need to subscribe
Despite a complex legacy, the Central Asian region has made significant progress in economic reforms. After a period of slow and negative growth, almost all the Central Asian economies have registered high growth in the last 15 years. Energy resources have played a significant role in choice of economic policies as well as economic performance. Energy investments and transport infrastructure have also helped Central Asia to integrate itself with larger economic regions.You need to subscribe
The paper analysess the on-going geopolitical competition over pipelines in the region. Several players are jockeying to get a foothold in the region’s energy sector. Pipeline politics in the region is getting intensified, which is also a reflection of the geo-political competition prevailing in the region.You need to subscribe
Energy security has taken center-stage in India’s foreign policy. A proper energy policy can spur economic growth through a spill-over effect on other sectors. With the continuous rise in demand for oil and gas, India has been attempting to diversify its energy import and Central Asia is seen as a potential source. Central Asian states are endowed with rich but unevenly distributed oil, natural gas and hydropower sources.You need to subscribe
The two life giving rivers of Central Asia Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which provided succour to people in the past, are unable to do so now. Depletion of water in the rivers, due to several factors, is the prime reason for the present state. It is not a question of electricity versus food, but both are integral to Central Asian economies. Many experts are of the view that future conflict in Central Asia would revolve around water dispute.You need to subscribe
Thus TAPI pipeline project has major geopolitical significance. The region is wracked by political and economic tensions. The pipeline provides an opportunity to improve relations among participating states. All four participating countries will get benefit from the project. For India and Pakistan in particular, the TAPI pipeline will enhance and diversify their vital energy supply lines and open up further competition in the Central Asian gas markets.You need to subscribe
The Republic of Uzbekistan is strategically located in the heart of Central Asia, in the area between the Amudarya and Syrdarya rivers. Uzbekistan is doubly-landlocked country, bordered by Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.1 It is the most populous country in the region, rich in resources and a strong agricultural base.You need to subscribe
The most important driving force of the global economic progress is energy, and the welfare of billions of people directly depends on it. The economy of any country depends on a stable, reliable and affordable supply of energy. Today we are faced with the challenge of moving to a sustainable energy system that excludes conflicts over resources, climate, social, political, internal and external energy.You need to subscribe
The paper discusses Russia’s interests and policies vis a vis Central Asian States CAS, especially in the energy arena. Russia enjoyed near monopoly as the transit country for the landlocked CAS’s for transport of their energy resources and other commodities. However with China buiding pipelnes and investing in the energy infrastructure of the CAS and ready to import increasing amount of their hydrocarbons and other resources, Russia is facing challenge. It remains an important partner for the CAS in the energy as well as security arena.You need to subscribe
After the collapse of the USSR, the global order began to see rapid changes. The bipolarity ended and the new era of global politics began. Five new states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan emerged on the in world scene. The last twenty five years have seen many changes in Central Asia. China’s economic relations and energy security are focused on continued increase in trade relation between Xinjiang and Central Asia states (CAS) for the stability in the province.You need to subscribe
The 1990s were time of change in Central Asia. The energy resources and, in particular, the oil and natural gas deposits became bone of contention in Central Asia introducing a new chapter in the Great Game of control over Eurasia. The region has significant energy potential and is strategically important. The United States has varied and at times competing interests in Central Asia.You need to subscribe
The Central Asian Republics have to cover a long distance before they increase share of renewable energy in their overall energy consumption but they have already made a beginning. Climate change, increasing population pressure on energy resources, need to provide electricity to remote areas, suitable geographical conditions and potential for regional cooperation are some of the drivers for renewable energy in Central Asia.You need to subscribe
Demise of the Soviet Union started geopolitical competition for control over the vast energy resources of the newly independent Central Asian Republics. These energy resources, oil and natural gas, became the source of discord in Central Asia, which led to a New Great Game. The two countries of Central Asia - Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are chiefly endowed with energy resources. Both of these countries are landlocked and therefore, heavily rely on their immediate neighbours for access to the global markets.You need to subscribe
The Central Asian neighbourhood of Afghanistan consists of large energy resources with sizeable volumes of hydrocarbon reserves present in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan bordering the eastern and southern part of the Caspian Sea. The hydel and geo-thermal energy sources present in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have gained attention in the light of electricity transmission possibility through Wakshan corridor in Badakhshan region of Afghanistan.You need to subscribe
The impact of non renewable sources of energy on the environment and their limited quantities has inspired countries all over the world to explore alternative sources of energy as urgent and very important. India being one of the leading global customers of energy has also been exploring alternative sources of energy, including solar and wind power. However, the limited production and high costs of renewable energy forces India to still depend on fossil fuels, including oil and gas.You need to subscribe
A secure energy supply is one of the prominent requirement for a country to develop its industries and other infrastructures. Central Asia remains as the main focus for the world’s major energy resources. China’s growing economic presence in Central Asian energy resources and political influence over Central Asian political leaders seriously worried Russian policy makers.You need to subscribe
Hitherto dominated western reliance on Middle Eastern oil started to crumble with the promising potentials of Central Asian energy reserves and the speedy development of infrastructure thereof. Historically a hinterland of Russia now started to attract global attention around its vast energy resources particularly of oil and natural gas deposits. The attention of regional and extra regional countries like US, China, European Union, Japan, Israel, Iran, Pakistan and India have accentuated the conflict over resource scramble to which many now call as the New Great Game to control and administer the energy resource of Central Asia and the Caspian region.You need to subscribe
India’s active interaction with Central Asian countries began after the collapse of Soviet Union. From hence onward, one witnessed a major transformation in India’s foreign policy, i.e. moved away from Nehru’s idealism to Modi’s realism and pragmatism. Today Central Asia is again likely to become the “heartland” of world’s economic and military powers because of its geo-strategic location and natural resources. The big powers are following multiple policies to expand their influence in this region. So it has become imperative for India to play a role of balancing power in the region.You need to subscribe
Afghanistan, India and Pakistan thus became field of contest. The emergence of Central Asia as the new region of new priorities, geo-political and geo-economic importance made Afghanistan again the focus of Central Asia politics. Afghanistan, called the cross roads of Asia—a connect to South and Central Asia—has been important part of struggle in Central Asia’s geo-politics and oil addiction. The US ‘war on terror’ is part of that strategy.You need to subscribe
In the context of India’s relation with Afghanistan and Central Asia, Iran plays key role due to its geographical proximity bordering with landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan being India’s only land route to the North-West is denying India passage to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Iran stands India’s connectivity alternative and has been engaged in the development of Chabahar port to connect Central Asia and Afghanistan.You need to subscribe