Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, accompanied by a high-level delegation, paid a 2-day state visit to India to strengthen bilateral ties. This was his first visit to India since assuming office in 2016. 17 agreements were signed ranging from cooperation in defence, national security, agriculture, science, pharmaceuticals and technology, and a twinning agreement between historic cities of Agra and Samarkand. Both countries decided to work jointly and strive for a stable, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan. Agreement was signed to create a Technopark of software and innovative products in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is interested in exchange of experience in e-governance. Agreement was signed on exploration and use of space for peaceful purposes. Mirziyoyev referred to strategic partnership with India as “one of the most important priorities” for Uzbekistan. Joint Statement issued after bilateral talks notes an impressive spectrum of cooperation covering “political ties, defence, security, counter-terrorism, trade and investment, science and technology, space, nuclear energy, information technology as well as cultural and academic linkages.” Of particular significance is the agreement on military training. It was agreed to establish an expert group to undertake a feasibility study for a preferential trade agreement by 2018 end. Both leaders emphasized on achieving target of bilateral trade of US$1 billion by 2020. Bilateral trade was US$235 million in 2017-18 and US$155.5 million in 2016-17.
A key rail link extension project connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan could see collaboration between Beijing and New Delhi in a "China-India Plus" model enabling the two countries to cooperate in development and connectivity projects in other countries. Uzbek President is reported to have invited India to join the railway project during his visit to New Delhi. Afghanistan has welcomed both China and India for the venture. Mirziyoyev is keen to join the transit trade agreement signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.
President Ram Nath Kovind paid a three-day visit to Tajikistan during which he held talks with his Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon, Speaker of Parliament, and Speaker of Lower House of Parliament. Tajik Prime Minister called on the president. Kovind visited the Tajik National University where he delivered an address on 'Countering Radicalization: Challenges in Modern Societies'. He addressed members of Indian diaspora also. This was President Kovind’s first visit to Central Asia. Both countries agreed to work together to boost connectivity and fight against terror. Eight pacts were signed in fields of political relations, strategic research, agriculture, renewable energy, traditional medicine, space technology, youth affairs, culture and disaster management. Importance of Connectivity particularly of International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), Chabahar port and Ashgabat Agreement, for realizing full potential of Strategic Partnership and economic relations was emphasized by President Kovind. India offered a grant of US$ 20 million to Tajikistan for financing development projects. On Tajikistan’s request, India will undertake a feasibility study of solar projects in seven villages in the country. India will also provide two English language laboratories for Tajik Military.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj attended 17th Council of Heads of Government meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Leaders exchanged in-depth views on current international and regional issues. Swaraj raised issue of terrorism as “most overwhelming threat to our common goals of development and prosperity”, adding that “governments must assume their national responsibility and cooperate with each other”. Participants reviewed situation in Syria, Afghanistan and Korean peninsula. Swaraj said that India stands committed to a peace process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled, that can help Afghanistan emerge as a peaceful, secure, stable, inclusive and economically vibrant nation. She welcomed signing of Protocol of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group on sidelines of Qingdao Summit. She said that India would be happy to co-host with Afghanistan, next meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group in India. She affirmed India’s determination to work in SCO on environmentally friendly energy alternatives to ensure sustainable development. Kazakhstan proposed construction of Eurasian high-speed railway mainline on route Beijing-Astana-Moscow-Berlin. Swaraj met her Tajik counterpart and discussed enhancing bilateral relationship in development assistance, Science and Technology, IT, agriculture, defence and security, health and tourism. Addressing the Indian diaspora in Dushanbe, she said that she and Prime Minister Modi had visited all five countries in Central Asia. This is proof of India's growing ties with nations in the region.
Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman paid a three-day visit to Astana at invitation of her counterpart. During the visit, she met Kazakh Defence Minister and Minister of Defence and Aerospace Industry. She visited National Defence University and saw Indian Military Art Room, established with Indian assistance. India-Kazakhstan Defence Cooperation includes military-technical cooperation, military education and training, joint military exercises, bilateral exchange of visits and cadet youth exchange programs. Over 200 Kazakh Defence Forces personnel have undergone military training in India till date. Both countries successfully conducted a company level joint military exercise ‘KAZIND-2018’ in South Kazakhstan, last month. India’s partnership with Kazakhstan in UN Peacekeeping reflects its desire to support Kazakhstan in its contribution to global peace. Contingents of both countries worked together over past one year to prepare for this joint deployment. Sitharaman discussed issues relating to defence production with Kazakh Minister for Defence and Aerospace Industry. Possibilities of joint production and/or co-production were discussed. She discussed regional developments with Kazakh Foreign Minister who appreciated India’s position and experience as a major force in UN Peace Keeping and contributor to peace building in various parts of the world.
Uzbekistan Airways will launch a thrice-a-week Mumbai-Tashkent direct flight shortly. Mumbai will become its third destination in India, after Delhi and Amritsar.
(The views expressed are personal)
Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar
Advisor, Central Asia, Ananta Aspen Centre
Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia