India-Central Asia Relations - August 2018

The first state visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to India is scheduled to take place in October, 2018.

External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj visited Kazakhstan (2-3 August), Kyrgyzstan (3-4 August) and Uzbekistan (4-5 August) to hold discussions with the leadership of these countries to further strengthen and expand relations with this important region. In Kazakhstan she met her counterpart as well as the Kazakh Prime Minister. In Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in addition to meeting her counterparts, she also held discussions with the presidents of those countries.

In Kazakhstan, EAM discussed cooperation between the two countries as well as regional and international issues with the Kazakh foreign minister.  They discussed implementation of agreements reached in 2017 during visit of Prime Minister Modi to Astana, as well as during his meeting with President Nazarbayev in June 2018 on SCO Summit sidelines in Qingdao. Kazakhstan is India’s largest trade and investment partner in Central Asia. Cumulative investments from India into Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan to India from 2005 to 2016 amounted to US$244 million and US$83.09 million respectively.

Bilateral trade and economic cooperation reached almost US$1 billion in 2017. Trade turnover during January- April 2018 totaled US$250.3 million, which is 31.2% higher than same period in 2017. Imports from Kazakhstan by India in this period increased by 37% and amounted to US$174.2 million. Exports to Kazakhstan from India increased by 19.8% and amounted to US$76.1 million. Potential of Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway line with access to the Indian Ocean was also discussed.

Discussions between the two foreign ministers on strengthening bilateral cooperation in energy, deepening cooperation in trade and investment, defence and security, Information and Communications Technology, pharmaceuticals, capacity building, culture, logistics, space, and tourism and film production were held. To enhance people-to-people contact and to promote tourism, India extended the e-visa facility to Kazakh people from February 2018.

The foreign ministers agreed to deepen bilateral military-technical, security and defence cooperation which has intensified over the last two years. This includes assistance by India in deployment of Kazakh peacekeeping contingent as part of the Indian battalion for the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, and joint Kazakh-Indian military KAZHIND exercises planned for autumn 2018. A Kazakh Armed Forces Unit underwent training on peacekeeping operations in India and a mobile training team from Indian Army trained Kazakh personnel in Almaty. EAM emphasized improving connectivity with Central Asia through the International North-South Transport Corridor, India’s accession to the Ashgabat Agreement and TIR Convention.

EAM said that Kazakhstan's professionals and students attend courses on scholarships in India every year under ICCR and Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme in a wide range of disciplines.

Discussions with the Kazakh PM focused on expanding cooperation in trade, economy, defense industry, space, transport and logistics.

Indian business circles showed interest in managing Kazakhstan’s big airports, as well as in cooperation with Astana International Financial Centre, International Center for Green Technology and Investment, and Astana Hub – International Hub for IT Startups.

Reference was also made to the significance of on-going negotiations to establish a Free Trade Area Agreement with Eurasian Economic Union.

In Kyrgyzstan, discussions on expanding cooperation in areas like agricultural products, food processing, pharmaceuticals, energy and chemicals, defence, science and technology, and health were held. Several areas including political and parliamentary exchanges, defence and security, science and technology, economic, health and tourism to strengthen bilateral cooperation, as well as important regional issues were discussed. EAM also met senior officials from IT, health, tourism, energy and natural resources departments of Kyrgyz government to discuss possible areas of collaboration.

In meeting with her Uzbek counterpart, productive discussion in fields of trade and economy, defence and security, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, IT, agriculture and animal husbandry, tourism and culture were held. In her call on Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, substantive discussions to strengthen bilateral strategic partnership across all sectors were held.

EAM met and interacted with the Indian community in all the 3 countries that she visited. She said that no Prime Minister from Nehru to Manmohan Singh had reached out to Indian community settled abroad in the manner in which PM Modi’s government had done.

EAM made a transit halt in Turkmenistan enroute to Kazakhstan and held detailed discussions on a wide range of bilateral issues with Deputy Chairman of Cabinet of Ministers and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov at Ashgabat airport.

Inaugurating the eleventh Uzbek-Indian intergovernmental commission, Uzbek Deputy PM said that Uzbekistan intends to expand supply of uranium concentrate to India in near future. Uzbekistan also expressed readiness to expand direct supplies of non-ferrous and rare-earth metals, cable and wire products, polyethylene and polypropylene, chemical products, mineral fertilizers, as well as fresh and processed fruit and vegetable products. High rates of import duties restrain supply of Uzbek fruits and vegetables to India. Uzbekistan may take part in International North South Transport Corridor project (India-Iran-Azerbaijan-Russia-Kazakhstan), which aims to increase transport and transit potential of the region. Discussions on opportunities in textiles and garments, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food processing and engineering goods took place. Business delegations from FICCI and CII held talks with counterparts in pharmaceuticals, agriculture/agriculture machinery, food processing, engineering goods, garments & textile, leather, tobacco, plastic & chemical and petrochemical sectors.

Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu cut short his visit to Tashkent on account of the demise of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Indian and Pakistani forces, along with those from other members of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries, participated in Peace Mission – 2018 exercises which saw more than 3000 troops taking part in anti-terror drills. The exercises were held at Chebarkul training ground in Russia from 22nd-29th August. The objective of Peace Mission-2018 is to enhance cooperation between armed forces of SCO states. This includes joint anti-terrorist operations, increased combat preparedness of SCO nations to confront terrorism, extremism and separatism. The aim of this joint military drill is to develop and execute joint strategies in case of terrorists capturing a part of territory of one of the SCO nations. This anti-terrorist drill christened “Peace Mission” is held every two years.


August 31, 2018


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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.