Central Asia Digest | April 2021


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

Political Developments

Kyrgyzstan’s foreign debt is reportedly around US$5 billion and more than 40% (US$1.8 billion) is owed to Export-Import Bank of China for a series of infrastructure projects over the last decade under the guise of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Bishkek is grappling with a contracting economy whose gross domestic product dropped 8.6% in 2020, prompting fears the country will be unable to pay off its loans or even meet interest payments, especially on its commitments to Beijing. Kyrgyz President Japarov said that if they do not pay some of the debt on time, they will lose many of their properties. Beijing has shown a willingness to defer some loans, but not offer outright relief, which signifies a difficult negotiating environment for countries like Kyrgyzstan. Some government critics have raised the prospect that the authorities might sell off or surrender mining rights to the lucrative iron-ore deposits to China to pay off its loans. Beyond mineral and mining concessions, some lawmakers have also mentioned the possibility of the government surrendering partial management of the country’s energy sector.

In the first phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japarov, the latter voiced support for more Chinese projects in the country and praised Xi's handling of a range of international issues. Xi emphasized that China is opening-up at an even higher level, which will offer even more development opportunities for Kyrgyzstan and other countries. He added that China and Kyrgyzstan should continue to promote the steady and stable development of the practical cooperation, advance high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, deepen cooperation in economy, trade, connectivity, agriculture and other fields, and ensure smooth progress of major cooperative projects. China will encourage its companies to invest in Kyrgyzstan, and welcome more high-quality agricultural products from Kyrgyzstan to China. The two sides should strengthen security cooperation, and maintain the security and stability of the two countries and this region at large. 

The phone call came after strained relations between Bishkek and Beijing around the events that brought Japarov to power after the rigged parliamentary elections in October, 2020. In the wake of those events, Chinese businesses and citizens in Kyrgyzstan reportedly faced attacks and shakedowns, which led to Kyrgyz Ambassador to China being summoned in Beijing as Chinese officials expressed their displeasure and concern for the safety of its citizens. Japarov -- whose parents lived for many years in China –has to now persuade Beijing that he can be a reliable partner without alienating himself from the nationalist, anti-corruption rhetoric that helped bring him to power. Popular anger over corruption remains high in Kyrgyzstan and many details over past loan contracts signed with Chinese entities are unknown, sparking further speculation among the public about how the government will settle its debt with Beijing. With limited international experience, Japarov is also looking to shore up Russian support to help navigate his problems.

Even before the political upheaval that brought Japarov into office, Bishkek had been asking China for debt forgiveness. Prior to the pandemic, Kyrgyzstan was making progress in paying its outstanding loans, but the financial problems caused by COVID-19 broke down the country's economy, which remains reliant on cross-border shuttle trade with China, and derailed Bishkek's schedule. In November 2020, some relief did come from Beijing in the form of debt deferment, allowing US$35 million owed for that year to be delayed until 2022-24, at 2% interest. But those deals only offer temporary relief and do not address wider structural issues over Kyrgyzstan's inability to service its debt obligations. With Bishkek exploring various drastic options to repay its Chinese loans, what sort of concessions Beijing is willing to offer could be the deciding factor. China holds many of the cards in debt talks, with contracts signed with Kyrgyzstan stipulating that any disputes over repayment are to be settled in Chinese arbitration courts, rather than international ones, and could contain other clauses to Beijing's advantage. How Kyrgyzstan resolves its debt impasse with China will be watched closely around the world as other countries facing the economic crunch of the pandemic deal with their own Chinese-owed debts.

Anti-China protests have grown across Central Asia in recent years, with many such demonstrations taking place in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Concerns about land ownership, state debt, Chinese labor practices, and the internment camps in the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang -- which have also held ethnic Kyrgyz and Kazakhs in addition to Uyghurs -- have been rallying calls in the countries. Vandalism and several attacks on Chinese workers have also occurred in recent years in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The Kazakh government has clamped down hard on Xinjiang activism of late, with even small pickets being broken up by police.

Kyrgyzstan’s President Sadyr Japarov approved a law to hold a constitutional referendum on April 11. This will take place simultaneously with local elections. The constitutional amendment proposes the country’s transition from parliamentary to a presidential system. According to the new regulation, the number of deputies in the parliament will be reduced from 120 to 90, and a new body called the People's Assembly will be established in the country that can make recommendations. A total of 59 political parties will take part in the local elections, which will be held in 26 provinces and 420 districts and villages. Kyrgyzstan, which was governed by the presidential system from 1991 to 2010, switched to a parliamentary system of governance in a constitutional referendum in 2010.

Status of Kyrgyzstan’s democracy declined from "Partly Free" to "Not Free" because of aftermath of deeply flawed parliamentary elections in October, 2020 which featured significant political violence and intimidation that culminated in the irregular seizure of power by a nationalist leader and convicted felon Sadyr Japarov who had been freed from prison by supporters. While Kyrgyzstan joined the ranks of the "not free" in 2020, it may bounce back if the political situation can be stabilized and focus directed at resurrecting the rule of law. The country’s relatively stronger scores in the "civil liberties" subcategory — owing to (again, relatively) free and independent media, greater academic freedom, and the ability of individuals to express themselves — arguably forms the basis of the country’s democratic recovery. But that will remain true only if those features are valued and protected by the new government, rather than further eroded. That remains a big question mark. Kyrgyzstan, with a score of 28 still ranks the highest in Central Asia, ahead of Kazakhstan (23), Uzbekistan (11), Tajikistan (9) and Turkmenistan (2). Countries are scored on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the most free.

During the two-day visit of Kyrgyz President Japarov to Russia, the two countries witnessed the inking of a defense pact and also agreed to develop a strategic partnership. The agreement included allowing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) in Kyrgyzstan. While no further details were released, the drones may be used for surveillance in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, on the southern fringe of the Fergana Valley along borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Japarov sought cooperation from leading Russian companies in key sectors such as energy, industry and infrastructure, tourism, and new technologies. He invited them to establish businesses in Kyrgyzstan. He listed the light industry as a priority sector. One proposal related to the creation of a vaccination reserve for Kyrgyzstan. As a follow-up to the summit level visit, both countries are considering the possibility of producing the Russian vaccine in Kyrgyzstan. Japarov’s first trip abroad after assuming office provided a good opportunity for him to establish direct contact to build trust with his main ally Russia. For the Russian leadership, it was an opportunity to develop a rapport with top authorities with whom they would be working in the future.

The core purpose of Kyrgyz President Japarov’s visit to Kazakhstan was to make the personal connection with Kazakh leadership. Japarov met Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, signing a bevy of documents and issuing a joint statement; he also met First President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Prime Minister Askar Mamin, and Chair of Mazhilis (the lower house of parliament) Nurlan Nigmatulin. The joint statement conveyed a sense of normalcy, with the two sides discussing strengthening their strategic partnership and alliance and touching on a number of bilateral and relevant multilateral efforts. “Elbasy” — Leader of the Nation, Nazarbayev — was lauded early in the statement, highlighting his continued strong influence in Kazakhstan’s domestic and international relations. The statement emphasized the necessity of expanding business and economic ties across a range of sectors. The Eurasian Economic Union, of which Kazakhstan holds the rotating chairmanship, also made an appearance. In addition to the joint statement, the two presidents oversaw the signing of at least seven documents inter alia on cooperation between defense ministries of the two countries in 2021; between the two foreign ministries in 2021-2022; between the Kyrgyz State Service for Digital Development and the Kazakh Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation, and Aerospace Industry etc.

Tajik Foreign Minister once again sent a diplomatic note to his counterparts in Beijing over “provocative” articles in Chinese media about the country having territorial claims on it. Similar episodes happened in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan last year and also sparked a backlash.

Kazakhstan and Turkey reaffirmed their commitment to a strategic partnership as Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister paid an official visit to Turkey during which he met with Turkish President, Turkish Vice President, Foreign Minister and other senior officials. Turkish foreign minister said strong economic ties are a solid foundation for cooperation between Kazakhstan and Turkey that must be strengthened by tapping into the existing but underutilized potential. According to him, Kazakhstan is the “historical homeland of all Turks” and Turkey attaches great importance to the spiritual ties between the people of the two nations. During his meeting with Turkish President, Kazakh FM conveyed invitation of Kazakhstan’s First President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Erdogan to attend the informal summit of the Cooperation Council of Turkic-speaking States scheduled in Kazakhstan’s city of Turkestan. The council was founded in 2009 to promote cooperation between Turkic speaking states whose current members are Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Hungary as an observer state.

A Kazakh delegation headed by Prime Minister made a working visit to Abu Dhabi reaffirming Kazakhstan’s interest in strengthening cooperation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Agreements worth US$2.2 billion were signed during the visit. The sides discussed the previous agreements and prospects for expanding bilateral cooperation in trade and economy, finance and investment, transport and logistics, agriculture, tourism, mining and energy sectors. Following the talks, 17 intergovernmental and commercial agreements were signed to implement projects in construction of poultry and dairy farms, production of fruit and mushrooms, cooperation in mining, metallurgy and geological exploration sectors. The agreements also envision the establishment of an industrial park in the Ekibastuz industrial zone in northeastern Kazakhstan, a Katon-Karagai tourist facility in East Kazakhstan, and the launch of a plant to produce electric vehicle components.  In October 2020, Kazakh PM led the country’s delegation on a working visit to UAE that saw signing of agreements amounting to US$6.1 billion in investments.

Boosting trade was a big part of Turkish foreign minister’s mission to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, but there were unique reasons for his visit to each country. Turkish FM said that Uzbekistan is interested in Turkey's defense industry products and is working with different Turkish companies. He added that negotiations are continuing for finalizing the preferential trade agreement between Uzbekistan and Turkey.

A survey by the Central Asia Barometer found that majority of Central Asians believe Russia is the country “best able” to help them with coronavirus. 75.5% of Kyrgyz surveyed ranked Russia as “best able” to help them; 57.8% of Uzbeks said the same and 51.6% of Kazakhs did. As for China, 19.1% of Kazakhs said Beijing was “best able” to help them, followed by 13.6% of Uzbeks and 7.5% of Kyrgyz. The Central Asia Barometer noted a generational element: “Older respondents, more than young people, believe that, if necessary, Russia will provide assistance to their country in the fight against coronavirus. Young people constitute the largest share of those expecting support from other countries (China, USA, etc.).” The biggest problems for Central Asia regarding vaccines are not necessarily the supply or geopolitical question; they are the local matters of logistics and overcoming hesitancy.

Pakistan assured Uzbekistan of complete facilitation in access to Pakistani ports. Pakistan said that it’s Karachi and Gwadar ports could become “the gateway to the landlocked Central Asia as Pakistan provided the Central Asian Republics the shortest route to international seas”. Uzbekistan currently relies on Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas for external trade. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan have signed a roadmap for construction of almost 600km of Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway line. This is expected to take five years for completion at an estimated cost of US$4.8 billion. These issues were discussed during visit of Uzbek FM to Pakistan. Uzbek FM also visited the Army General Headquarters for a meeting with Army Chief at which Director General of ISI was also present. Matters of mutual interest, overall regional situation including the Afghan Peace Process and bilateral cooperation in various fields were discussed. Pakistan is offering access to Gwadar port, a component of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to landlocked Central Asian countries in the hope of stimulating activity at the idle facility. Pakistan recently signed bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan on preferential trade, transit procedures, customs cooperation and visa issuances.

Reclusive Turkmenistan may be edging towards family rule. Turkmen President Berdimukhamedov recently promoted his son to several top posts, prompting speculation he is moving towards a political transition to retain his family's grip on power in the authoritarian country. If rumours of hereditary succession come true, it would be a first for Central Asia. By presidential decree, Berdimukhamedov’s 39-year-old son was made chief auditor, deputy chair of the cabinet and a member of the Security Council. This makes him "second only to the president."

A peril faces Central Asia’s largest remaining lake, Balkhash in eastern Kazakhstan, a key source of drinking water in the arid region. Rapid development and expanding rice cultivation upstream in China pose a grave threat to Balkhash basin. Just how bad Balkhash’s fate will get depends both on Chinese farming and the magnitude of climate change, which is all but certain to disintegrate the last of glaciers feeding the 1500-kilometer Ili River, the source of 80 percent of the lake’s water. It seems clear that to save the lake, China would have to drastically reduce the amount of water it uses. Expansion of farming in China has far outpaced Kazakhstan’s in recent decades. The Ili begins in China’s Xinjiang province. It is one of the most fertile valleys in Xinjiang. A reduction in water consumption might be achievable with new, efficient technologies and by planting crops less thirsty than rice and cotton. That does not appear to be on the cards. Instead, China “plans for more rice production” by “continued conversion of scrub and grassland into irrigated agricultural fields.” Studies reveal that within 40 years, too little water will flow into the Balkhash to save the lake. Similar concerns plague the Irtysh, the other major river flowing from China into Kazakhstan.

Economic Developments

After months of delays suffered by trains heading from Kazakhstan to China, Kazakh railway authorities have said they are now prohibiting the eastward passage of cargo freight. The holdups, which began in mid-November, have been caused by time-consuming coronavirus-related inspections by Chinese border personnel. The Kazakh national railway company has said that ban on goods being sent to and through China will last until end of March at the earliest. The knock-on effect of the sharp contraction in cargo train traffic caused by intensified inspections is that many carriages are left to idle in sidings. Kazakhstan said 12,000 uncoupled carriages are standing idle. It said that it has undertaken repeated measures to solve the impasse, but that the “Chinese side is ignoring signed agreements and international agreements.” The statement came only a week after a more upbeat message, also from Kazakhstan, about Chinese readiness to speed up processing of trains arriving from Kazakhstan following successful, government-level negotiations.

Though Covid-19 pandemic provided an all-time high for freight-train traffic to Europe from China, it slowed trade from Central Asia to China. Only limited traffic is allowed to pass through China's border post with Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek is trying to change this to deal with the economic blows of the pandemic. Kyrgyz Prime Minister and Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan discussed speeding up border crossings and increasing trade. Progress remains uncertain.

Similarly, traders in Tajikistan are still grappling with border closures with China as they remain cut off from their main export destination. Many merchants complain they are being squeezed out by Chinese competitors. Preliminary Chinese trade data for 2020 shows that imports to China from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan fell by more than 45% compared to 2019.

Western Kazakhstan’s oil-rich Mangystau region announced the discovery of the largest reservoir of hydrocarbons in over 30 years of the country’s post-independence history. The oil appears to be low in sulphur content, which could potentially make it easier to process and transport compared to hydrocarbons produced in other parts of Kazakhstan. Mangystau province accounts for 25% of all oil and condensate production in Kazakhstan or 18mn tonnes of oil and 3bn cubic metres of natural gas per annum. Appearance of a new and large oil field coming online in Kazakhstan may be a mixed blessing. Kazakhstan’s oil output fell by 5.4% y/y to 85.7mn tonnes in 2020 driven by Kazakhstan’s participation in the global OPEC+ pact to cut oil output, as prices of oil plummeted last year amid a pandemic-driven decline in demand for energy. While the commodity is valuable, Kazakhstan has struggled to wean the economy off reliance upon it. Taxes levied on the oil and gas industry make up nearly half of Kazakhstan’s state budget. The discovery may not attract much interest after the cost overruns at Kashagan project — Kazakhstan’s last mega discovery — which became unnecessarily costly. Italy's Eni said that it sees no scope for new large upstream investments such as Kashagan.

Kazakhstan ranked fifth in terms of mobile data cost in the United Kingdom’s Internet Accessibility Index 2021 published by Broadband Choices service. The price for 1 gigabyte of mobile data is estimated at US$0.9 with mobile internet coverage reaching 100% of the country’s 18 million population. The ranking analyses the quality, availability and cost of internet access in 169 countries. In 2020, demand for internet services in Kazakhstan increased significantly, as the internet became most used channel for communication.

The Karaganda Pharmaceutical Complex, Kazakhstan plans to produce 2 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine by June 2021 under an agreement with the Russian authorities.

Kazakhstan paused talks on purchasing the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine due to reports about its side effects. Kazakhstan said that it was carrying out negotiations regarding vaccines that have the least side effects. Kazakhstan, which has already secured supplies and also arranged local production of Russia-developed Sputnik V vaccine, is in talks for buying vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson.

Uzbekistan which received its first 660,000-dose batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine provided for free under the COVAX initiative said it would press ahead and use it. Uzbekistan said that all vaccines have side effects and that Uzbek citizens would be able to choose between different vaccines.

Kazakhstan plans to launch 5G in a pilot mode this year. It is expected to be launched in Almaty, Nur-Sultan and Shymkent by the end of 2022 and all other regions by the end of 2025.

An international forum on attracting investments in the country's oil and gas sector will be organized in Turkmenistan on May 12-13, 2021 in Ashgabat. It will discuss global and regional trends in the development of fuel and energy sector, implementation of regional projects in this area, including construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. This event will be held in order to attract investment in the oil and gas sector of Turkmenistan, to develop and strengthen international partnerships between state organizations of Turkmenistan and international oil and gas companies.

As per a release issued by OPEC, Russia and Kazakhstan will be allowed to increase production by 130,000 and 20,000 barrels per day, respectively. This has been done “due to continued seasonal consumption patterns,” the OPEC statement said.

India-Central Asia Relations

India’s external affairs minister (EAM) Dr S Jaishankar proposed the inclusion of Iran's Chabahar Port in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and invited Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to join the multi-lateral corridor project. Addressing the virtual "Chabahar Day" event organized on the margins of the 3-day ‘’Maritime India’’ Summit 2021, he said, "INSTC is an important trade-corridor project, wherein India is partnering with 13 countries to establish the economic-corridor for the benefit of our people…Establishing an Eastern Corridor through Afghanistan will maximize its potential." He expressed the hope that during the INSTC Coordination Council meeting, member states would agree to the expansion of the INSTC route to include the Chabahar Port and also agree on expanding the membership of this project. INSTC is a 7200-kilometer ship, rail, and road corridor for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. The INSTC project was originally decided in 2000 in St Petersburg, and subsequently included 10 other central Asian and west Asian countries: Azerbaijan Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria as an observer. It will reduce the carriage cost between India and Russia by about 30% and the transit time from 40 days by more than half.

The move reflects India's strong commitment to work with all regional stakeholders to enhance connectivity in the region and to provide unhindered access to the sea, to land-locked Central Asian countries and Afghanistan through Chabahar Port. The port played an important role in shipping humanitarian aid to Afghanistan amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as helped Iran to fight the locust invasion recently. Besides the Indian exports of food products, the port has in a short while, established its credibility and relevance by handling several shipments and trans-shipments from Russia, Brazil, Thailand, Germany, Ukraine, and the UAE. EAM pointed out that there was "a huge infrastructure deficit in the region, which needs to be met to fulfill the growing aspirations of our people."

Celebration of "Chabahar Day’’ commemorated five years of signing of a tripartite agreement on establishment of a trilateral transport and transit corridor. Interest has been evinced by Central Asian countries to be part of the project. A working group of India, Iran, and Uzbekistan met in December, 2020 as one of the key outcomes of the India-Uzbekistan virtual summit between the leaders of the 2 countries. Last year, the Kazakh envoy to India spoke about Kazakhstan’s interest in joining the project. Ministers from six countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Armenia took part in the commemoration of Chabahar Day. The Port has already handled 123 vessels and 18 lakh tons of cargo which include trans-shipments from “Russia, Brazil, Thailand, Germany, Ukraine and the UAE”.

Predicting that Chabahar will change the “geo-economy” of the region, Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammed Eslami called for assistance from India in developing the project, both through the provision of cranes and other equipment at the port as well as rail tracks, signal and switching equipment for the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project. In a letter last November, Iran had also asked India to activate the US$150-million credit line it offered during Iranian President Rouhani’s visit to Delhi in 2018 for the project. Eslami said that India has participated in the first phase of development of Shahid Beheshti port of Chabahar and is supplying the required equipment. He added that it was necessary for India to facilitate the process of supplying the remaining equipment.

Russian Deputy Industry and Trade Minister called the INSTC a “very important corridor for the development of freight traffic in the region”, and suggested that member countries could also work on the joint design and construction of container ships and railway lines together.

India and Uzbekistan are swiftly moving to strengthen their partnership to develop connectivity in Central Asia via the Chabahar port. Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan visited New Delhi and met External Affairs Minister to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation. Uzbek foreign minister extended an invitation to his counterpart to participate in a conference that it will be hosting this summer. Title of conference is “Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities.” This is expected to play a crucial role in shaping these two regions’ futures. Uzbek minister’s visit was also focused on bilateral relations and regional connectivity. Main goal of summit is to elevate cooperation between two regions and countries of two neighbouring regions to a new level in areas like economy, trade, investment, transport, innovations and technologies, culture, tourist exchanges and security areas. The summit will have three common themes of discussion - economic, cultural, security- connectivity and would aim to refresh historical ties. This is the first such initiative to bring leaders of central and South Asia together.

Uzbekistan has built a 75-km railway line between Mazar-i-Shareef and Hairatan town on the Uzbek-Afghan border. Tehran has also built the first railway link between Afghanistan and Iran. India and Uzbekistan under the 2011 Ashgabat Agreement are to build a transit and transport corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Given the significance of the partnership with Tashkent on Chabahar, New Delhi confirmed a US$448 million Line of Credit for the development of connectivity related infrastructure, information technology and energy in Uzbekistan. Both the countries have signed several agreements in various sectors apart from actively cooperating in regional platforms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the India-Central Asia Dialogue (ICAD). India now has air bubble agreement inter alia with Uzbekistan. These air bubbles are temporary arrangements that are reached between two countries to restore commercial passenger services as regular international flights continue to remain suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Dustlik-II exercise between India and Uzbekistan was held in Chaubatia, Uttarakhand in which the Indian army shared experiences and lessons it gained in Kashmir showcasing its Counter Insurgency (CI) and Counter Terrorism (CT) skills in mountainous, rural and urban scenarios under United Nations (UN) mandate. The focus was on people-centric intelligence based surgical operations, incorporating technological advancements to minimize collateral damage. Uzbekistan is important to India for security and connectivity to Central Asian region. There were also joint operations and familiarisation with each other’s practices. The Army also showcased use of force multipliers including helicopters, Special Forces, specialist equipment and establishment of automated surveillance grid for situational awareness among others. Accordingly, the Indian contingent had representatives from Para Special Forces, Signal and Engineers. The final part of the exercise underscored the growing military ties India is developing in a region that has a strong Chinese influence. The exercise Dustlik began in 2019 in Uzbekistan. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh attended the curtain raiser of the first edition. Exercise Dustlik, part of a series of similar exchanges that India is accelerating with nations in the region is of special significance given that Uzbekistan shares a border with Afghanistan and is vital for connectivity to Central Asia. Similar exercises are planned this year with Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

Separately, based on a request from the Turkmenistan Special Forces, the Indian Army provided training at its Special Forces Training School of paratroopers from that country in combat free fall as a precursor to a series of other customised professional courses to assist in capability enhancement of the Turkmen Special Forces.

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to India called for Indian companies to take advantage of the country’s various trade agreements and implement joint beneficial investment projects in the area. Observing that the economic and trade potential of the two countries is not fully realised, he said opportunities exist to expand the interaction of the two economies by speeding up the process of transport connections. He said Uzbekistan has free-trade agreements with CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) nations and Georgia. He noted that negotiations have already started with the European Union on granting GSP (Generalised System of Preferences)-plus regime to Uzbekistan. He added that the Indian side has achieved a notable economic presence in the region in the pharmaceutical sector. Highlighting that India accounts for about 30% of the Central Asian pharmaceutical imports, he said that Uzbekistan was interested in maximum realisation of its pharma sector potential. Indian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Manish Prabhat shared that the first trilateral dialogue was held last month between India, Iran and Uzbekistan for the future use of the Chabahar port in Iran.

India will supply four more mobile harbour cranes to Iran’s Chabahar port by the end of June this year. In January, India supplied a consignment of two mobile harbour cranes to the Chabahar port having a total contract value of over US$25 million. For Chabahar, presently cranes which are available are sufficient for operation of that port. After mobile harbour cranes are delivered, there are plans to procure rail-mounted cranes for which bidding is going on. Till January 31, 2021, approximately 13,752 TEUs and 18 lakh tonnes of bulk/general cargo were handled there. Efforts are afoot to improve the traffic at the Chabahar port. Since 2017, India has sent consignment of 1.1 lakh tonnes of wheat, pulses and other assistance in over 4,800 containers to Afghanistan through Chabahar port.

(The views expressed are personal)


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About the Author

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar

Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia; President, Institute of Global Studies and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar belongs to the Indian Foreign Service and has acquitted his responsibilities in the diplomatic service for 34 years. He was Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia and has worked in senior diplomatic positions in Indian Embassies/Missions in Washington DC, Brussels, Moscow, Geneva, Tehran, Dhaka and Bangkok and also at Headquarters in India. He negotiated for India in the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and in negotiations for India-EU, India-ASEAN and India-Thailand Free Trade Agreements.

He contributed significantly to strengthening strategic ties and promoting cultural cooperation between India and USA, EU, Russia and other countries.Ambassador Sajjanhar worked as head of National Foundation for Communal Harmony to promote amity and understanding between different religions, faiths and beliefs. Ambassador Sajjanhar has been decorated by Governments of Kazakhstan and Latvia with their National Awards and by Universal Peace Federation with Title of ''Ambassador of Peace.'' Currently Ambassador Sajjanhar is President of Institute of Global Studies, New Delhi. He writes, travels and speaks extensively on issues relating to international relations, foreign policy and themes of contemporary relevance and significance. He appears widely on TV panel discussions. Ambassador Sajjanhar is interested in reading, music and travelling. His wife Madhu is an economist and an educationist. They have a son and a daughter both of who are accomplished singers. Their son passed out of Yale University and their daughter is pursuing her PhD at University of Minnesota.