Central Asia Digest | June 2021

HIGHLIGHTS

● Political Developments
● Economic Developments
● India-Central Asia Relations

Political Developments

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his counterparts from the five Central Asian countries (C5) to discuss a range of issues, including prospect of peace in Afghanistan, COVID-19 recovery and climate change. The C5+1 format was created in 2015 to increase communication and engagement between United States and five Central Asian states on issues in the region. During the talks, Blinken highlighted both five-year anniversary of C5+1 format and 30-year anniversary of the Central Asian states’ independence as well as establishing diplomatic relations with United States.

Some recent media reports suggest the U.S. military will seek to reposition some of its troops in Central Asia after it withdraws from Afghanistan after nearly two decades in the country. New York Times reported that U.S. officials had been in contact with Kazakh, Uzbek, and Tajik authorities about possibility of using bases in the region. U.S. Secretary of State said in tweets that he had spoken with the Uzbek and Kazakh foreign ministers, though it’s not known if they discussed the possible use of military bases by U.S. or other NATO troops. If such a deal was made between Washington and Central Asian countries, it would not be the first time the region hosts U.S. and other NATO troops. Last time Western troops used bases in Central Asia — beginning in 2001 and lasting until 2014 — it did not end so smoothly. Today the Taliban are back in some areas along the border with Central Asian countries, but more importantly for the Tajik and Uzbek governments, some of their citizens are again in terrorist groups in northern Afghanistan. Allowing the United States to temporarily use their bases could be justified if part of the aim of these bases is to help neutralize Central Asian extremist groups in northern Afghanistan. The United States and its allies helping the Afghans fight the Taliban would like to have military bases in countries neighboring Afghanistan, as opposed to redeploying to sites further away, such as in the Middle East. Iran is not an option and Pakistan a very unlikely one. That leaves Central Asia as the ideal choice.

A conflict over a disputed water distribution facility on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan quickly moved from stone throwing clashes between civilians to gunfights involving border guards and government forces. Both countries traded blame for cross-border shelling and clashes that left three Kyrgyz border guards killed and 81 people including at least two soldiers wounded. Tajikistan reported three civilian deaths and 31 people wounded, without giving a breakdown of civilians and troops. Kyrgyzstan’s National Security Committee said Tajik troops fired mortar shells and machine guns. Tajikistan’s National Security Committee said Kyrgyz troops were the first to open fire on the Tajik border guards and accused Kyrgyzstan of trying to forcefully take over the area, which Tajikistan sees as part of its territory.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have had a long history of border disputes as both have enclaves on each other’s territory. Even when authorities show some determination to resolve border conflicts, local communities and criminal groups are not always ready to do the same. A large part of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border has remained unmarked, fueling fierce disputes over water, land and pastures. Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations have held several rounds of talks in recent years but have failed to resolve the dispute. Kyrgyz authorities said the conflict erupted when Tajik officials attempted to mount surveillance cameras to monitor the water reservoir and the Kyrgyz side opposed the move. Foreign Ministries of the two countries said they had agreed a ceasefire and a troop pull-back after hours of talks. But a Kyrgyz government source said Bishkek feared it could permanently lose part of its territory after temporarily abandoning it. Clashes underscored the highly volatile situation along the frontier — one that could easily escalate again.

This appears to be a wake-up call for Russia. Firstly, this is a signal that on its periphery, in the former zone of its interests, its influence is fading. Previously, similar conflicts (during Russian Empire, during USSR period) were extinguished by Russian military presence. Now that there are sovereign states in place, Russian influence is no longer unique or exclusive. Many states exert their influence there, and this will further prevail in the modern multipolar world. On the other hand, the incident is an opportunity for Russia to strengthen its presence in the region. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are CSTO members so it’s not a good idea for them to go to war.

US President Joe Biden has nominated Donald Lu, incumbent US ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic since 2018, as the next assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. This important position in the US State Department responsible for American foreign policy and relationship with South and Central Asia, has been lying vacant since beginning of previous Trump administration. Lu will need to be confirmed to his role by the US Senate. Lu served as US ambassador to Albania; deputy chief of mission in US Embassy in New Delhi; deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires in Baku, Azerbaijan. He also did postings in Georgia and Pakistan. Ambassador Lu speaks and reads Albanian, Russian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, West African Krio, Hindi and Urdu. Indian American Nisha Desai Biswal, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, was the last Senate-confirmed Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia. She quit after Trump became president in 2017. Trump did not nominate anyone to the post during his four years, even though several members of the Congress had asked him to appoint a senior diplomat for the region. Alice Wells, who was formally the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the region, took on the responsibility of Acting Assistant Secretary of State for most of Trump’s presidency till she quit last June. The portfolio of the region’s Assistant Secretary of State consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Over the past 4 years, Uzbekistan under the leadership of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been carrying out systemic reforms aimed at liberalizing and modernizing the national economy, ensuring its sustainable development and consistent integration into world economic relations. Improving the competitiveness of manufactured products and the country’s export potential are identified as the most important priorities in this direction. Uzbekistan has already managed to take practical measures to reach agreements with neighboring countries on the implementation of new infrastructure projects. In particular, in recent years, road, aviation and rail links with Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have developed actively.

During his visit to Turkmenistan, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev discussed further strengthening Uzbek-Turkmen relations and strategic partnership, and expansion of multifaceted and regional cooperation with his counterpart. Uzbekistan considers co-operation with Caspian states as priority direction of its foreign policy.

A court in Kazakhstan handed down sentences to 51 defendants in a case over deadly ethnic clashes that took place in South of Kazakhstan in February 2020. The defendants, according to their roles in the clashes between Kazakhs and Kazakh citizens from the ethnic Dungan minority — a Muslim group of Chinese origin — were found guilty of various crimes including murder, organizing and participating in mass disorder, illegal arms and ammunition possession, robbery, separatism, threatening the lives of military personnel, armed mass disorder, and hooliganism. The court sentenced eight defendants to prison terms of between 15 and 20 years after finding them guilty of murder and taking part in mass disorder. Another defendant was sentenced to 11 years in prison, one to seven years in prison, and seven men were sentenced to five years each in prison. One defendant was acquitted while the remainder were handed parole-like “freedom-limitation” sentences for periods of between two and six years. Two ethnic Dungans were sentenced to 16.5 years in jail each over the murder of a Kazakh man — the only Kazakh known to have died in the violence — while another Dungan was handed a 16.5-year sentence for participating in mass unrest and attempting to kill a policeman.  The violence that erupted following a road-rage brawl left 11 people dead and dozens injured, including 19 police officers. Many of the Dungans who fled ended up in the neighboring Kyrgyz region of Chui, where the majority of Central Asia’s Dungans reside. The fighting put under scrutiny claims by the Kazakh government of inter-ethnic harmony. Dungan representatives had complained in the build up to sentencing that Dungan defendants were being punished for protecting their community and homes, dozens of which were damaged or destroyed during the raid. Lawyers for the Dungan men who were sentenced intend to appeal the verdicts.

When Kazakhstan suffered its deadliest ever bout of intercommunal violence last year, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev made two pledges to a stunned country. Justice would be done, he said. And the root causes behind the shooting, killing and pillaging in February, 2020 would be brought to light. By that standard, the mass trial has proven a major disappointment. Representatives of Dungan community argue they have been disproportionately and unfairly punished for violence that was targeted at them. Nine of those killed were Dungans. Dozens of Dungan homes and businesses were destroyed. The vast majority got off scot-free, even though many could be clearly identified in video footage displayed in court. So have most of those who circulated messages containing ethnic slurs and incitements to violence. Some people charged that a sense of impunity may encourage a repeat performance.

The Defence Ministers of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a Eurasian intergovernmental organization which is a defense pact of six post-Soviet states which coordinate security and military cooperation, met in Dushanbe. They highlighted the necessity of maintaining strategic partnership amongst members and increasing joint military drills. CSTO serves as a crucial platform for Russia to execute its political agenda as Moscow desires to consolidate its regional influence. They agreed to enhance engagement in cybersecurity and defense exercises in the short term. To counter Turkey’s growing geopolitical influence in Central Asia, Moscow plans to persuade CSTO members to approve further Russian troop and equipment deployment to bases hosting Russian soldiers. In this respect, Moscow’s ambitions to design a more powerful and compact CSTO will serve its interest of challenging future NATO expansion into Eastern Europe.

Presidents of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan exchanged views on development of bilateral multi-faceted cooperation and strengthening friendship and strategic partnership between the two nations. President Berdimuhamedov said Kazakhstan is the main partner of Turkmenistan in Central Asia. They agreed to step up volume of mutual trade as well as implement joint projects in sphere of industry, agriculture, energy, transport, and logistics. They also agreed to hold a session of the Intergovernmental Commission this year which will give an additional impulse to bilateral cooperation. Berdimuhamedov invited Tokayev to visit Turkmenistan to discuss relevant issues of bilateral cooperation and sign important agreements.

The first president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan in favor of current President Tokayev.

A new Chinese documentary ‘’Beyond The Mountains: Life In Xinjiang’’ depicts the lives of ethnic Uyghur and other Muslim minorities — mostly ethnic Kazakh and Kyrgyz — in the region. The film makes no mention of China’s brutal crackdown on Xinjiang’s Muslims that has seen more than 1 million people forced into a network of massive internment camps, often run in prison-like conditions, since 2017. The documentary was released in a bid to push Beijing’s narrative of Xinjiang to global audiences. It seeks to counter multiple accounts by natives of Xinjiang who say Muslims live in a climate of fear and oppression as authorities target their culture, religion, family life, and traditions. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its International Religious Freedom Annual Report last year, that “individuals have been sent to the camps for wearing long beards, refusing alcohol, or other behaviors authorities deem to be signs of ‘religious extremism.’”

Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin visited Kazan, Russia where he participated in talks with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. They discussed bilateral cooperation in trade and economics, transport and logistics, energy and geological spheres, as well as industrial cooperation, the agro-industrial complex and rational use and protection of transboundary rivers resources. Cooperation as part of the Eurasian Economic Union was also on the agenda of the meeting. Particular attention was paid to joint measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and mitigating the consequences of the pandemic for the countries’ economies. Mamin also attended the first meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council, which was also joined by the leaders of Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. The heads of government discussed cooperation in the field of geo-informational products and services, as well as further cooperation between countries on space projects.

Concerned that Turkey is stealing a march on it after Azerbaijan’s victory in the latest round of Karabakh fighting, Iran has become significantly more active on the diplomatic, economic and even security fronts in the Caucasus and Central Asia over the last four months. Several weeks ago, Iran and Tajikistan announced the formation of a joint military committee, something that gives Tehran new influence in Central Asia’s only non-Turkic country. That also gives Iran new possibilities for cooperating with China, and to challenge not only Turkey but also Russia in the region.

Now, Tehran is proclaiming a breakthrough in railway transportation links with Turkmenistan saying that first cargo from Iran went to Turkmenistan. Iran claims that this will result in a dramatic expansion in trade between the two countries. During the first 11 months of 2020, Iran exported 144,000 tons to Turkmenistan which is projected to increase to 300,000 tons this year. Turkmenistan is also enthusiastic about this breakthrough. So far the focus has been on immediate cross-border trade, but the countries are committed to expanding that for both the countries as a whole and for transit to other markets from each. Iran appears to be far more interested in expanding its influence now than it was earlier. The geopolitical consequences of this trade cannot be ignored.

Residents of a village in western Kazakhstan are up in arms over construction of a fence along the border with Russia that they say has deprived them of access to drinking water for their livestock. Local residents expressed indignation that they had not been warned in advance. Appearance of barbed wire perimeters near homes has also alarmed families with young children. Border Guard Service has said in its defense that the demarcation work is being done in compliance with a bilateral agreement with Russia from 2005. It said that in 2020 … it was found that 1,500 meters of protective fence that had been installed was 70 meters inside Russian territory. Work was hence being done to dismantle and re-erect the fence.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Kazakhstan Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi and affirmed the US’s continuing support for Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence. The two Foreign Ministers looked ahead to expanded bilateral and regional cooperation in the wake of the COVID pandemic. The two also discussed areas of economic cooperation, and the importance of private sector investment. Secretary Blinken encouraged the Government of Kazakhstan’s continued commitment to political and economic reforms and modernization, and to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and expressed solidarity for its goals in women’s empowerment and economic advancement.

Kazakhstan has imposed a permanent ban on sale and lease of agricultural land to foreigners. It is a rare victory for grassroots campaigning, but could be a blow for a sector in sore need of outside investment and expertise. Sentiments like this are widespread in Kazakhstan and they contributed greatly to the upswell of anger five years ago that led to this moment. The government hopes this placates restive sections of the population, but not everybody is happy. Some describe the change in the law as a political gesture that will be economically harmful. It will deepen a difficult situation for the investment attractiveness of the agricultural sector, which is already not in the best of condition in light of other routine bans and restrictions. It is feared that many Kazakh investors may now redirect their energies to easier investment environments – Uzbekistan and Russia.

Kazakhstan is the biggest economy in Central Asia and it naturally plays a significant role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Over the years, China has invested heavily in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan serves as an essential transition point between China and Europe, a key project of the BRI. 4,800 Europe bound Chinese freight trains traveled through Kazakhstan in 2020. Economically, China is Kazakhstan’s biggest investor and one of its biggest trading partners. China has expressed interest in Kazakhstan’s natural resources. China is also involved in the development of Kazakh oil and natural gas industries. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), for example, has invested more than $40 billion in the oil and natural resources in Kazakhstan. China-Kazakhstan pipeline annually transfers 20 million tons of oil to China. During the pandemic, China has provided support to Kazakhstan. At the beginning of the pandemic, CNPC provided ventilation machines to local hospitals. Recently, China provided COVID vaccines to Kazakhstan. Three million doses of the Sinovac vaccine arrived in late March. While Chinese government and companies keep pushing for development of BRI, relationship between China and Kazakhstan local communities is not always smooth. In recent years, tensions among the local people towards China have been on the rise. Recently there was a protest in Almaty and in other major Kazakh cities directly targeting Chinese influence and economic expansion. They raised slogans against China’s expansionism and mass incarceration of members of indigenous Turkic-speaking communities in China’s Xinjiang region, including ethnic Kazakhs and Uyghurs.

Reason behind the protest was a new law concerning land use. Kazakh law forbids foreign entities from purchasing land but allows foreign entities to rent agricultural land. The fear is that any land that is rented could ultimately be purchased. Some even believe that this is part of China’s scheme of “expanding” into Kazakhstan. The protesters also targeted China’s treatment of its ethnic minorities. These anti-China protests are not new to Kazakhstan. Concerns over land spilled over in 2016. Back then, Kazakhstan only temporarily froze the selling of agricultural land, which created tension and concerns domestically. Recently, the Kazakhstan legislature has approved an amendment to forbid foreign entities from purchasing or renting agricultural land in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan’s anti-China sentiment is not isolated. When China expanded its international economic and political influences in Central Asia, local communities raised concerns and even protested Chinese expansion in the region. Protests have also taken place in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan targeting Chinese economic and political influence. While the Chinese government has clearly stated that these protests are only “malicious hyping of a handful few,” they pose a challenge for Beijing as it promotes the BRI in Central Asia. The Chinese are quite capable of maintaining a good relationship with local governments and businesses. Yet, it is equally critical to maintain a healthy connection with local communities. In 2019, many protesters in Kazakhstan expressed concerns that Chinese factories will not bring jobs to local communities. As a result, Kazakhs have said that if their government doesn’t take meaningful action against Chinese accused of destroying their beautiful country, they will raise the issue at various international fora.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report that named Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as “countries of particular concern” and recommended Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan be placed on the U.S. State Department’s Special Watch List, a list Uzbekistan was removed from in December 2020. Governments in Central Asia have worked since independence to increase control over religion in their countries and many groups and members of different faiths have been persecuted and denied registration. Some believers have been imprisoned, particularly Muslims, whom the governments of these countries seem to fear the most.

Kyrgyzstan is also turning against Beijing. Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, often finds itself being swarmed by hundreds of protestors, demanding curbs on work permits for Chinese citizens, reduction of the country’s debt to China, reduction in the Chinese presence, including a ban on Kyrgyz-Chinese marriages. Although Kyrgyz people’s hostility towards Beijing has its roots in China’s abhorrent treatment of ethnic Kyrgyz back in Xinjiang, they are not able to ignore how cheap and substandard technologies offered by Beijing are becoming a source of their uncalculated trouble. In particular, they don’t like to forget the accident at Bishkek’s main power plant which took place on January 26, 2018. When the temperature was around -27 degree Celsius, the Kyrgyz capital turned into a ghost city for five days after one of the plant’s nine boilers broke down, knocking out other devices at the power plant. Schools, colleges and offices were shut down, supply of hot water to homes stopped, thousands of people went hungry and some died in the freezing cold due to the accident at the power station. This incident took place just one year after the thermal power station underwent a costly overhaul. As much as $386 million was spent on the plant for which funds came from the Export-Import Bank of China. A contract for the renovation of the plant was given to a Chinese company based in Western China. Kyrgyz people see corruption and the Chinese habit of bribing the authorities as the key reason for the incident, which has left an indelible mark in the local people’s memory.

And when a plan to develop a Kyrgyz free-trade zone in Bishkek under its Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, met with huge public resistance, it compelled Beijing to cease a multi-billion-dollar project which had envisaged a giant logistics zone, a warehousing area, hotels and shopping malls. For this, Kyrgyzstan had even given 200 hectares of land leased to the Chinese firm for 49 years. But people found it yet another Chinese attempt at land grabbing that also shackled the local economy with a painful debt.

Since the turbulent 1990s, Islamist extremism has refused to completely disappear from Central Asia. Over the past decade, the unending conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have reignited fears that Islamic extremists pose a real threat in the region, particularly in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Years that followed collapse of Soviet Union in the early 1990s were beset by intense, often violent political instability throughout Central Asia. Thousands of veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan returned to their home countries with a newfound sense of religious identity, inspired by the Islamic zeal of their former Mujahideen adversaries. This was especially common in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where the populations share an ethnic kinship with many Afghans. A major factor behind this recent proliferation of Central Asian jihadis has been the mass emigration seen throughout the region, creating a generation of alienated young men ripe for radicalisation. Furthermore, the progress made towards digitalisation in Central Asia has helped expose more and more of the region’s people to radical content online – modern jihadist networks are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to use technology. Amid stagnating economic growth, growing populations and close proximity to the world’s flashpoints, radicalisation is now a major challenge for the governments of both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Large-scale military exercises between Tajikistan and Russia involving over 50,000 personnel including 9,000 Tajik servicemen and over 2,500 servicemen from Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan were held in Tajikistan. They engaged about 700 items of armament, military and special hardware from Tajikistan and Russia, including Su-25SM attack aircraft, Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters, T-72 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers and artillery guns. During the final stage of the drills, armed forces of Tajikistan and Russia carried out an operation aimed at preventing a border breach, detecting and eliminating a notional enemy. Troops also carried out various maneuvers at lowlands and highlands, as well as in cities, towns and at strategically important facilities. Russian Central Military District Commander described the drills as “important and timely amid the current volatile situation” and praised mutually beneficial military cooperation between Tajikistan and Russia.

Health Minister of Kazakhstan received his first dose of QazVac, the indigenously developed and manufactured Kazakh Covid-19 vaccine, in a local outpatient clinic in the capital Nur-Sultan. Kazakhstan is the sixth country to develop a COVID vaccine.

Since 1995, Freedom House has annually published an assessment of democracy in 29 states stretching from Central and Eastern Europe to Central Asia. The report scores each state on seven categories that serve to represent the “institutional underpinnings of liberal democracy” — national and local democratic governance, electoral process, civil society, independent media, judicial framework and independence, and corruption — and averages those scores to arrive at the country’s “democracy score.” Of the 29 countries assessed, no Central Asian country has been rated as a democracy or as a hybrid regime. Nine countries including all Central Asian Republics are classified as authoritarian regimes. Reasons for hope were offered by Uzbekistan which demonstrated the greatest democratic progress in 2020. Central Asia has always occupied the report’s lower rungs, with Kyrgyzstan a lone occasional and only partial exception. In 2017, Kyrgyzstan slipped for the first time since 2011 into the club of consolidated authoritarian regimes. In the 2021 report, Kyrgyzstan had a total score of 14 (out of 100), the highest of any Central Asian state but still a decline from its 2020 score of 16. Kazakhstan came in with a score of 5, Uzbekistan a score of 4, and Tajikistan earned a score of 2. Turkmenistan remained last with 0. Uzbekistan was one of the few across the entire range of 29 to see its score improve from a 2 in 2020 to 4 in 2021. It has a steep climb ahead to move toward greater democracy.

Turkmenistan celebrated the first national holiday in honor of its native dog breed with its canine-loving president Berdimukhammedov awarding a best-in-show prize at a ceremony in the capital, Ashgabat. The Alabai, a Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog, is a symbol of national pride in the country, and its President last year unveiled a huge golden statue of the creature in the city.

Economic Developments

Turkmen regional authorities have banned queues outside state stores that sell food at subsidized prices after Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Berdymukhammedov, the president’s son, publicly said that “crowds near stores discredit” his father. An order was issued saying that lines at state stores could be no longer than four people long. Those who break the order will be removed from the line immediately and face possible arrest. Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on subsidized prices for basic goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power. Food shortages have been increasingly reported in Turkmenistan. Customers are also forced to buy additional items at state stores, such as portraits of the president.

Bilateral trade between Kazakhstan and China grew by 4% and reached US$15.4 billion by end of 2020. Exports to China amounted to US$9 billion and imports from China – US$6.4 billion. Kazakhstan has potential to increase exports to China by about US$808 million for 60 commodity items in metallurgy, food industry, petrochemicals and chemicals, mechanical engineering and construction goods. China is one of the five largest investors in Kazakhstan accounting for 4.7% of total investment in the country. Currently, number of joint Kazakh-Chinese enterprises in Kazakhstan has exceeded 700.

More than 300 trucks were piled up on the Russia-Kazakhstan border apparently due to a unilateral tightening of rules by Russian border personnel. Where border guards previously scanned cargo and allowed it through, they now insisted on climbing into trailers, requiring a time-consuming unloading procedure. A Kazakh MP said that this was in violation of Eurasian Economic Union, or EAEU, provisions.

China is looking to Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to reduce its reliance on imported cotton from the United States and Australia. With relations strained between China and western countries – amidst ongoing allegations about the use of forced labour in the cotton industry of China’s Xinjiang region – Beijing is reportedly looking elsewhere for cotton imports. The Xinjiang region provides around a fifth of the world’s cotton but even with this huge resource, China relies on imports from other countries

India-Central Asia Relations

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to India Dilshod Akhatov paid a courtesy call on CM Vijay Rupani of Gujarat and discussed further strengthening Gujarat-Uzbek relations in various fields which declined due to unforeseen outbreak of pandemic coronavirus.

India held a joint military exercise Khanjar-VIII with Kyrgyzstan in that country despite the Covid-19 surge, signalling the importance that New Delhi attaches to promoting ties with Central Asia and Eurasia. Initiated first in 2011, the two-week long exercise focuses on high-altitude, mountains and counter-extremism. It envisaged conduct of joint military exercises, exchange of experience and information, and exchange of military observers and instructors besides others. Commander of Kyrgyz National Guards in his opening remarks commended high-altitude resilience of the two personnel and their camaraderie and interoperability. These exercises are in addition to exercises that India holds with Kazakhstan (KAZIND and Prabal Dostyk) and Uzbekistan (Dustlik).

At a time when India has proposed the inclusion of the Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), Iran has suggested that it is not averse to the idea of China and Pakistan joining the port project too. Iranian Foreign Minister said that Chabahar is neither against the Chinese nor against Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. He said that Chabahar is a place where all can come together in order to help Afghanistan, help development and prosperity in the region. A US Congressional Research Service report stated that India “accelerated work in early 2021 and the port (Chabahar) is expected to be declared operational no later than May 2021.”

Ambassador Shubhdarshini Tripathi assumed charge as Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan by presenting a copy of her credentials to Kazakh deputy foreign minister on 26 May 2021.

Nurlan Zhalgasbayev has been appointed as new Ambassador of Kazakhstan to India. His predecessor Yerlan Alimbayeev took over as Deputy Foreign Minister of the country on his return to Kazakhstan after completing his term in India.

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