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Hamid Ansari’s Visit to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan

Prof. Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D, Teaches at York University, Toronto, Canada, also President, Academic & International Collaboration, Liaison College, Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
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  • April 24, 2008

    Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan from April 4 to 10, 2008 opened up new vistas between India and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). During his visit, Ansari asserted that greater engagement between India and CAR would not only prove beneficial for both but will also help to enhance the strategic significance of the region. The Vice President’s visit has opened up new hopes for cooperation especially in the hydrocarbon sector, mainly with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

    Central Asia is an important region for India given its vital geo-strategic location in India’s extended neighbourhood. The region connects Asia to Europe and is rich in natural resources. CARs occupy a special place in India’s foreign policy priorities, their importance flowing from civilisational links as well as from geo-political and economic factors.

    Since 1991, India’s relations with CARs have come a long way, and the opportunities for future cooperation are immense. Today, India’s ties with CARs are aimed at countering common security threats like religious extremism, terrorism, drug trafficking etc. They have formed joint working groups to tackle a number of issues including terrorism, drug-trafficking and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

    New strategic equations and security realignments are emerging in Central Asia. Though India is not a key player in the region, these changes provide it both opportunities as well as challenges. Post 9/11, India had started building military technical cooperation with the CARs. It has also been engaged in intelligence co-operation, sharing joint military experience, and providing training and assistance to Central Asian forces. The positions of India and CARs on Afghanistan are quite close. Both wish to be part of an extended trade network through the North-South transport corridor and wish to develop the human resource potential in the region. India has already shown its desire to build a major software development centre and light motor vehicles manufacturing sector in Central Asia. During his visit Ansari re-assured CARs about India’s co-operation in the information and technology sector as well as in the sphere of education.

    With Central Asian energy reserves being estimated at 2.7 percent of total world oil reserves and 7 percent of total natural gas reserves, the region has a huge potential as a future energy source for India. According to an estimate given by Central Asian sources, the region’s confirmed oil deposits are between 13 and 15 billion barrels, and confirmed deposits of Natural Gas are around 270 to 360 trillion cubic feet. The main oil and gas deposits are in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

    Hamid Ansari discussed with the Kazakh and Turkmen leaders issues relating to oil and gas pipelines. The Indian Vice President admitted that there are certain obstacles for cooperation in the hydrocarbon sector, especially given that both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are landlocked countries. But he added that these hurdles can be overcome through cooperation. In this context, he mentioned that certain routes have already been opened up while others are being considered, like the route that starts from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and runs to the Turkmenistan border. The other is the North-South corridor that runs from Bandar Abbas to the Caspian Sea and the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. He noted that these are feasible propositions, that technical work is on and soon the issues involved will be resolved.

    India's diplomatic ties in the region had received a boost after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Uzbekistan two years ago, during which the latter had agreed to allocate geological territory to Indian companies to explore for hydrocarbon resources. It has also been agreed upon that India’s GAIL and Uzbekneftogas will work together to build facilities in Uzbekistan to produce LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas).

    In the field of defence, India has already acquired six Ilyushin-78s, and Indian aircraft are being regularly serviced at the Chekalov aircraft plant in Tashkent. There is also potential for co-operation between India and Uzbekistan in the aviation sector. India has also set up a military base at Ayni in Tajikistan to underscore the strategic dimension of ties between the two countries. For the present, Indian experts based here are involved in repairing military aircraft.

    Kazakhstan has also shown keenness on Indian involvement in its food production sector, given the vast tracts of uncultivated land in its territory. The Kazakh government informed the Indian Vice President that Indian investment in the food sector would be a welcome step. Ansari assured them that this idea will be explored. In this context, ideas came up from both sides that India could show interest in leasing land in Kazakhstan for growing crops that would be subsequently shipped back to India. Ansari said that experts would study the proposal before drawing up a roadmap for its implementation.

    During his visit Ansari also received strong assurances from both Kazakh and Turkmen leaders about their strong support for India’s membership in the United Nations Security Council. For his part, Ansari stressed that “This is our real neighbourhood … the flying time from the New Delhi to Astana and Ashkabad is shorter than that from New Delhi to Kanyakumari.” He also emphasised that “like India, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are developing countries though we are slightly ahead, therefore, the capacity to cooperate and assist is greater on our side. As our capability goes up, our ability to cooperate will also go up.” Both Kazakh and Turkmen governments emphasised that they consider India a strong and reliable partner.

    India needs to take a comprehensive approach to expand ties with CARs. There is tremendous scope for joint ventures in Central Asia, not only for satisfying India’s immediate and long term needs. At the same time, India also has much to offer to CARs, though there is need to place Indian initiatives on the fast track.