External Affairs

In Central Asia, Modi Highlights Shared Islamic Heritage, Dangers of Great Power Rivalry

‘When it was no longer the hub of trade, but a land in the shadows of the high walls of the powers around it, Central Asia declined and trade withered’


The following are extracts from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at Nazarbayev University in Astana today, as prepared by The Wire:

On Central Asia’s importance

It is a great privilege to embark on a journey of all five nations of Central Asia. This might be the first time this has happened. I am truly excited to visit a great country and a great region that has been called the pivot of human history. It is also a region of continuous engagement with India since human civilisation began.

The countries of Central Asia are endowed with rich human and natural resources. I am coming from Tashkent. Uzbekistan is experiencing rapid economic growth and progress. Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are turning their resources into a promise of a more prosperous future.

Central Asia is at the crossroads of Eurasia. It has been caught in the currents of history and it has also shaped it. It has seen rise and fall of empires. It has witnessed trade thrive and ebb.  For monks, merchants and monarchs, it has been both a destination and a passage. It has been an intermediary of cultures and faiths from across Asia.

On India’s ties with the region

Over the last two thousand years and more India and Central Asia have influenced each other profoundly. For centuries, Buddhism flourished in this part of the world and even influenced Buddhist Art in India. Through here, it spread eastward. As I stood in the Gandam Monastery in Mongolia this May, I marvelled at that journey of faith that linked Asia across its daunting landscape.

The confluence of Indian and Islamic civilisation took place in Central Asia. We enriched each other in spiritual thought, but also in medicine, science, mathematics and astronomy.

The Islamic heritage of both India and Central Asia is defined by the highest ideals of Islam – knowledge, piety, compassion and welfare. This is a heritage founded on the principle of love and devotion. And, it has always rejected the forces of extremism.

Today, this is an important source of strength that brings India and Central Asia together. The richness of our ties is written into the contours of our cities and our daily lives. We see this in architecture and art, handicraft and textile and in most popular food. The dargahs of Delhi resonate with Sufi music that draws people from all faiths.

The cities of Central Asia have become centres of yoga and Hindi, long before the world came together to celebrate the International Day of Yoga on 21st June.

Uzbekistan has recently completed fifty years of radio broadcast in Hindi. Our epics Ramayana and Mahabharata were popular on Uzbek TV as they were in India. Many of you wait for the release of the latest Bollywood film with the same excitement as people in India. This is the source of goodwill between our people. It is the foundation of a relationship of hearts and emotions. And, it cannot be measured only by the scale of trade or the demands of States.

On opening routes to Central Asia, new and old

Yet, we will be the first to say that the engagement between India and Central Asia fall short of its promise and potential. We have a special place in our hearts for each other. But, we have not paid as much attention to each other as we should. This will change. That is why I am travelling to all five countries in the region in the early stages of my Government…

This is an era in which Space and Cyber are making roads and rails less relevant. But, we will also restore our physical connectivity for trade, transit and energy.

The International North South Transport Corridor opens a competitive and quick route for India to Eurasia. And, I hope all of Central Asia will join it. We hope to join the Ashgabat Agreement on trade and transit.

India’s investment in Chahbahar Port in Iran will bring us closer to Central Asia. I also hope that we can restore the traditional route to Central Asia through Pakistan and Afghanistan.We can draw confidence from the agreement between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India on the gas pipeline.

This region has prospered the most when we have been connected.

Indeed, our hopes of an Asian Century will be realised, when we see Asia as one, not as South, West, East or Central. Asia will rise when we all prosper together. For that, we must connect Asia’s different parts.  India is at the crossroads of Asia’s land and sea routes. We understand our responsibility. And, we are working with a sense of priority to connect ourselves to the East and the West, by land and sea.

On the dangers of renewed rivalry between powers

Today, all of Asia seeks the revival of the glorious ancient Silk Road. But, we must also remember the lessons of history. The Silk Road flourished and waned with the fortunes of Central Asia.

The end of the Silk Road did not just come about from the rise of sea-based trade of the new European powers. It also happened because Central Asia was no longer a bridge between regions, but the new fault line between great empires to the east, west and south. When it was no longer the hub of trade, but a land in the shadows of the high walls of the powers around it, Central Asia declined and trade withered.

The success of connectivity through and across Central Asia is important.  For that, the great nations of Central Asia must flourish and regain their central role in Eurasia.

From Europe to Asia, all nations must foster a climate of cooperation and collaboration, not competition and exclusion, in this region. The region must remain stable and peaceful, free from conflict and the violence of extremism and terrorism.

And, as Central Asia links the East and the West, it must also connect to the South. For that is how it always was.

In an age of globalisation, Asia cannot remain fragmented. And, Central Asia cannot remain distant and disconnected from India.

I am confident that we can make it happen. Our ancestors crossed the mighty Himalaya, Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamirs for spiritualism, knowledge, and markets. We will all work together to build the Silk Route of the 21st century. We will connect through space and cyber as we will by air, land and sea.

  • Ormond Otvos

    How nice if some reduction in religious violence happens…