The Second India-Central Asia Dialogue at the Foreign Ministers level was held earlier this week. India and five countries of Central Asia; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share deep historical and civilisational ties. Since independence of the five Republics of the region in early 1990s, India has been forging close political, economic and cultural relations. The C5+1 format at the foreign ministers level, where the five Central Asian countries meet together with India, has emerged as a valuable platform for international engagement for all the five countries of the region.
The inaugural India-Central Asia Dialogue was jointly hosted by India and Uzbekistan in January 2019 at Samarqand. The Second dialogue was to be held in April this year but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held through video conference mode. It was hosted by India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar. Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in the dialogue. Kyrgyzstan was represented by First Deputy Foreign Minister. There has been a change of government in Kyrgyzstan recently. Like previous years, Afghanistan had joined as a special invitee and was represented its Acting Foreign Minister.
A Joint Statement was issued by the leaders. Cooperation in controlling the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout on the economy and society was high on the agenda. The Ministers emphasized the “need to continue close cooperation between the Sanitary and Epidemiological Services of India and the Central Asian countries in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.” Amid the pandemic and despite the logistical challenges, India had supplied medicines and equipment to over 150 countries. It also reached out to Central Asia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan Ministers acknowledged India’s medical assistance to their countries in the fight against the pandemic.
In spite of neighbourhood proximity, sharing cordial political relations, understanding of the culture and having reciprocal potential, trade and economic relations between India and the five Central Asian republics, have remained below expectations between India and the five Central Asian Republics. The pandemic has further affected it. Lack of direct land or sea connectivity has been a major impediment as the region is landlocked. India has provided US$ 1 billion Line of Credit for priority developmental projects, including in connectivity and energy.
As envisaged during the first India-Central Asia Dialogue, India launched the India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC) in New Delhi on 6 February 2020. The Council comprises of the business chambers from India and five republics. The Business Council is expected to increase awareness and understanding of regulations related to trade, investment, taxation and related subjects among the business people in India and Central Asia. This may be particularly helpful for the Small and Medium Enterprises given the economic.
India has been making investments to develop Chabahar sea port in Iran. The full operationalization of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) will give a boost to trade between the two sides. India has also joined the Ashgabat Agreement, which establishes a trade and transit corridor between Central Asia and West Asia. Inclusion of a large economy like India makes it more viable and adds a south Asian dimension to the agreement. The Ministers of Central Asia appreciated India’s efforts to modernize the Chabahar port and expressed hope that it can become an important link in trade and transport communications between the Central Asian and South Asian markets.
The Dialogue condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that terrorist safe-havens, networks, infrastructure and funding channels must be destroyed. On Afghanistan, it said that the Afghan conflict should be resolved on the principle of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process.
The Dialogue highlighted the significance of cultural, educational and tourism cooperation and called for ease in visa process and encouraged investment in tourism infrastructure.
On account of increased connectivity, growing business interests and greater people to people interaction, the relationship between India and Central Asia is set to be further strengthened.
Script: Dr. Athar Zafar, Strategic Analyst on Central Asia