India is awaiting responses from leaders of five Central Asian nations to an invitation to attend as chief guests of Republic Day 2022, with the details expected to be finalised during the ministerial level meeting of the India-Central Asia foreign minister’s dialogue, which External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will host this weekend in Delhi. Officials confirmed that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has reached out to governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to confirm their attendance, as is the protocol for Republic Day guests before a formal invitation is handed over.
According to the officials, uncertainty over the COVID-19 situation, as well as the extra coordination required for multiple invitations, has led to the delay in the process of the invitations, which is normally wrapped up by December each year.
If they accept, this will be the first time all five countries would attend the Republic Day parade together, although Kazakhstan’s former President Nursultan Nazarbayez was the chief guest in 2009. Sources told The Hindu that one of the five Central Asian members has yet to respond to the enquiries, and a final decision on the collective invitation would be taken once the last holdout was resolved, as it is expected to be by December 18, when Mr. Jaishankar is hosting the 3rd India-Central Asia Dialogue.
Diplomats said the invitation was part of India’s reach-out to the former Soviet States, that has intensified since 2015, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited all five capitals. India joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017, which all Central Asian States other than Turkmenistan are members of. The India-Central Asia dialogue was launched in 2019, and in July this year, Mr. Jaishankar attended the Central Asia-South Asia connectivity conference in Uzbekistan. Last month, National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval also held a regional security dialogue on Afghanistan. It included the NSAs and Secretaries of Security Councils in the five Central Asian States, along with Russia and Iran.
“The invitation is also a signal that India wants to increase its links to the region, where land connectivity has been difficult due to Pakistan’s [obstructive] position,” former Ambassador to Tashkent Vinod Kumar told The Hindu . “Maritime connectivity remains important, and the Republic Day meeting will help strengthen India’s initiatives through Chabahar and through the International North South Transport Corridor,” he added.
The move to invite Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan, Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyzstan, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov of Turkmenistan, and Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, is also part of the Modi government’s attempts to bring together immediate neighbours and “far neighbours” in a group format on multiple occasions. Mr. Modi invited SAARC and BIMSTEC group leaders to his swearing in ceremonies in 2014 and 2019 respectively, and invited 10 leaders of the ASEAN as Republic Day guests in 2018.
Officials also said the reconstruction of the Central Vista, as well as worries about another wave of COVID-19 has meant that the Republic Day parade may need to be amended or truncated in 2022. In January 2021, the government decided to reduce the parade size and attendees after the confirmed Chief Guest, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pulled out a few weeks prior to Republic Day over a rise in COVID-19 cases.