Thursday, December 2, 2021

India-Uzbekistan Relations Growing Dynamically

In a step to enhance economic engagement and further boost bilateral relations, India and Uzbekistan held their first meeting of the National Coordination Committees this week. The objective of the committees is to monitor the implementation of joint projects agreed between the two countries. The meeting was co-chaired by India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, V. Muraleedharan and Uzbekistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade, Sardor Umurzakov. The meeting was held in an online format in view of the prevailing health and travel conditions.

According to a statement of the Ministry of External Affairs, the two sides reviewed the bilateral activities in the fields of trade and economy. They also took note of the negotiations on a bilateral investment treaty, preferential trade agreement, mutual market access for agricultural produce, implementation of identified projects under India’s Lines of Credit, cooperation between the state of Gujarat in India and the Andijan region of Uzbekistan, and the India-Uzbekistan Entrepreneurship Development Centre at Tashkent. They expressed satisfaction over the progress made in various projects and hoped that the expeditious completion of the projects will further strengthen bilateral trade.

Central Asia is in India’s neighbourhood and due to its geographical location and demography; Uzbekistan has a prominent position in the region. With 32 million people, it has nearly half of the total population of the region. India and Uzbekistan have a long history of relations and share cultural traits in various areas. The two countries are strategic partners and in recent years their relationship has been growing dynamically. Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid visits to Uzbekistan in 2015 and 2016 while President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visited India in October 2018 and January 2019. Uzbekistan was also the venue of the historic First India-Central Asia Dialogue of Foreign Ministers in January 2019, which was also saw participation by Afghanistan.

Defence cooperation between India and Uzbekistan has been growing lately. In November 2019 they held their first Joint Field Training Exercise, Dustlik-2019, focusing counter-insurgency operations. It was inaugurated by India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was paying his first visit to Uzbekistan in one and a half decades by an Indian Defence Minister. Bilateral documents in the field of military education and military medicine were also signed. 

Both India and Uzbekistan are members of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Tashkent is the headquarters of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS).

Cordial political relations and increasing security cooperation at the bilateral level have to be matched with economic engagement. Trade is hampered due to the absence of direct land access to the region. India is a big economy and it needs supply of secured energy sources, which are available in plenty in Central Asia and especially in Uzbekistan. Tashkent on the other hand, sees India as a potential investor and partner in trade and technology. The two countries can expand cooperation in banking, IT, automobile, metallurgy, pharmaceutics and chemical sectors. Though bilateral trade was growing in recent years, the COVID-19 has hit international economic scenario hard. India and Uzbekistan have largely succeeded in controlling the pandemic situation in their countries. India also provided humanitarian assistance in terms of medical supplies to Uzbekistan to deal with the challenges.

The growing relations provide the two countries opportunity to cooperate in finding solutions to the pressing issues, including instability in Afghanistan and lack of direct connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia. Uzbekistan has become an active stakeholder in bringing peace in Afghanistan. It is constructing a railway line from Mazar-e Sharif to Herat, which makes South Asia –Central Asia trade through Afghanistan possible. India has joined the Ashgabat transit corridor and it is making investments in Chabahar port in Iran. Trade and economic engagement are set to rise with the operationalization of Chabahar port and full implementation of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Joint efforts of India and Uzbekistan on connectivity can have positive effect on the mutual trade turnover.

Script: Dr. Athar Zafar, Strategic Analyst in CIS

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