Script: SHIVAJI SARKAR, Freelance Journalist
The three-day visit of Kazakhstan’s Defence Minister Lieutenant General Nurlan Yermekbaye to India and the talks he held with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh have opened up new opportunities with the biggest Central Asian country. The two countries are exploring widening partnership in defence, including possible joint production as well as opening a new chapter in the heavy engineering sector.
During his visit, Lt Gen Yermekbaye paid visits to headquarters of 12 Corps at Jodhpur and the Longewala sector in Jaisalmer. The two Defence Ministers had last met in Moscow in September 2020, on the side-lines Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ meeting. Several Indian companies are in talks with Kazakh defence industries for co-production and co-development of defence equipment. These items range in a wide spectrum for the sovereign needs of both the countries as well as a possible aid to friends.
India has also set up the Indian Military Art Room (IMAR) at the Kazakh National Defence University and trains its cadets in India with a commitment to meet each other’s requirements.
Kazakhstan Air Chief had participated in Aerospace 2021 and showed his interest in the joint production of aerospace equipment. This includes issues related to repair, maintenance and up-gradation of equipment, alongside setting up joint ventures.
Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has experienced remarkable economic performance and rapid growth. India is one of the first foreign countries visited by Kazakhstan’s first President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1992. Within a span of 3 decades, the two countries have launched joint projects in energy, tourism, education, information technology, pharmaceuticals as well as culture.
Both countries are strategic partners since 2009. They had renewed the memorandum of cooperation in January 2017, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the capital Astana. The then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Kazakhstan in October 2017 and discussed wide-ranging issues relating to defence and military-technical cooperation. Over 200 Kazakh defence personnel have undergone military training in India since then. The two countries also conducted joint company level military exercise KAZIND-2018.
The visit of Lt Gen Yermekbaye is significant since the relations between both nations are steadily growing. There are few factors that make Kazakhstan important – its geostrategic location, economic potential in terms of petroleum and other vital energy resources.
Kazakhstan’s geopolitical existence between Russia and Asia, in addition to long borders with China, makes it a country of great strategic importance. India is looking for an alternate route to Europe, and Kazakstan’s location could make it possible. India is working for better land and sea route through Chabahar and Bandar Abbas of Iran by further development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and also of an air-freight corridor.
The bilateral trade is eyeing opening of new avenues every year. Ever since a year of the pandemic, there has been a significant increase by 27 per cent compared to 2019 which now stands at $ 2.37 billion 2019, total trade amounted to $ 1.56 billion. Despite Kazakhstan being the largest trading partner in Central Asia, India is keen on increasing the level of trade and assistance to Kazakhstan so that it becomes self-reliant.
Additional impetus came during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2017 visit to Kazakhstan for the SCO Summit and the opening of EXPO 2017. Today, cooperation is rapidly developing with focus on economic diplomacy. The prospects for cooperation in spheres of oil and gas, civil nuclear energy, uranium, agriculture, public health, information technology and defence are promising.
India and Kazakhstan actively cooperate under the aegis of various multilateral fora including CICA, SCO and the UN organisations. India has been a consistent supporter of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA). The CICA is the only Central Asian forum of which India is a full member. The partnership here is multifaceted.
As for the economic development, under the mechanism of India-Central Asia dialogue at the level of Foreign Ministers, the grant assistance is offered in order to implement high impact community development projects in Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.
India has offered a loan worth $1 billion to all the five Central Asian countries for priority development projects in communications, energy, IT, healthcare, education and agriculture. The relations are to grow and Kazakhstan may become India’s alternate gateway to the West.