India, Kazakhstan sign seven deals; China plans new communications and investments in Central Asia; Malaysian, Saudi firms to invest in Uzbekistan; Central Asian states discuss problems of landlocked developing countries;
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  • India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was on a two-day visit to Kazakhstan on 15-16 April, held talks with his counterpart on a slew of bilateral issues with emphasis on energy and trade. This visit comes after eight years by any Indian premier to Central Asia. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed the seven pacts signed between India and Kazakhstan, saying they represented ''solid and substantive outcomes'' in sectors where the countries had ''complementary strengths''.1 Both leaders agreed on a three-year Joint Action Plan. It details specific milestones in hydrocarbons, civilian nuclear energy, space, IT & cyber security, high-tech and innovative technology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, agriculture and cultural exchanges.2 India got a foothold in Kazakhstan's oil and gas assets Saturday with the signing of an agreement to buy a 25 percent stake in the Central Asian country's Satpayev exploration block in the Caspian Sea.3 ONGC’s overseas investment unit ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) sealed the deal with Kazakh state energy firm KazMunaiGas to gain exploration and production rights. OVL will invest $400 million into the project for a 25 percent stake in the block, which is estimated to hold around 1.75 billion barrels of crude. The Kazakh fuel producer will retain the remaining 75 percent stake in the exploration block located in the energy-rich North Caspian Sea.4

    The two countries also moved a step towards more intensive collaboration in nuclear energy with the signing of the Agreement on Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy but this is subject to both sides “adhering to their existing obligations under multilateral nuclear regimes.”5 Kazakhstan has supplied India with uranium for the South Asian country’s reactors under a deal signed in early 2009 between Kazakh nuclear holding corporation Kazatomprom and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL). The new agreement will broaden the base of cooperation to include exploration and research of uranium. Both the countries signed the roadmap for projects and activities to be undertaken between 2011 and 2014 to improve land connectivity to facilitate trade and transit between India and Central Asia in general and Kazakhstan in particular and also inked a memorandum in the area of information security. India agreed to diversify our cooperation, particularly in pharmaceuticals, information technology, mining, fertilizers and science and technology; offered to set up a joint Information Technology Centre of Excellence in the Eurasian University in Astana; discussed the situation in Afghanistan and cooperation in international forums, including the United Nations and regional processes; and agreed to intensify dialogue in the fields of counter-terrorism, illicit drug trafficking and extremism.6

    Reports noted that China is set to begin construction on a new Silk Road to Europe via Central Asia to expedite transport and trade. The $660 million project is expected to be finished in September 2013 and will traverse through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey, before heading into Europe. China has also initiated plans to construct road through Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea, another via Kazakhstan and Russia to facilitate transportation with Europe and plans an East-West “Silk Track” rail link to Europe passing through Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Iran.7

    Meanwhile, a subsidiary of China’s Sinopec has begun construction of $1.04 billion aromatic hydrocarbons plant in Western Kazakhstan. This processing facility is expected to extract 551,156 tons per year of benzene, paraxylene and other chemical compounds from crude. Chinese investor Sinopec Tenth Construction Co. will also produce gasoline at Euro-3 and Euro-4 standards at the plant, which will be built in two phases. Sinopec signed the agreement with Kazakh state energy firm KazMunaiGas in 2009.8

    However, Malaysia’s Petronas Carigali Overseas Sdn Bhd, the firm’s main hydrocarbon exploration arm, and Saudi Arabia’s Delta Oil signed the agreement to form a consortium for the development of Uzbekistan’s oil and gas fields. This agreement will establish an investment consortium that will be focused on the oil and gas fields in the Surkhandarya-based Boysun investment block.9

    Representatives from the five Central Asian republics gathered on 12th April in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar to discuss the concerns of landlocked Asian countries. The two-day meeting was being hosted by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold to evaluate the progress made since the 2003 Almaty Program of Action for Asia-Pacific Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDC). Mongolian premier Batbold called on transit countries to create favorable transportation agreements and conditions to ease trade for landlocked nations.10

    According to reports, newly-reelected Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has fired six justices from the country’s Supreme Court who were suspected of corruption. As the Supreme Court Chairman Musabek Alimbekov was held responsible for the corrupt activities of the judges, Nazarbayev nominated Bektas Beknazarov to be the new Supreme Court chairman who won the approval of the Senators.11

    Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov temporarily stepped aside on 14th April amidst allegations of corruption from coalition government partners. Babanov, leader of the Respublika party will wait until a parliamentary committee clears him of alleged involvement in illegal financial schemes and abuse of office. Meantime the parliamentary commission will study information presented by the former Prosecutor General Kubatbek Baybolov after President Roza Otunbayeva fired him.12

    However, the Kyrgyz Parliament in a secret ballot elected Aida Salyanova as the country’s new prosecutor-general. Salyanova had been serving as interim prosecutor-general after her predecessor Kubatbek Baibalov was fired March 31 by the president following a real estate sales scandal. Otunbayeva fired Baibalov over a “conflict of interest” in his investigation of Russian telecommunications firm Alfa Telecom. Baibalov has continued to cause trouble for Kyrgyz politicians, alleging corrupt practices of high-ranking legislators including Respublika Party head Omurbek Babanov and Otunbayeva.13