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Indian Prime Minister's Visit to Uzbekistan

Dr. Ramakant Dwivedi was Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • April 25, 2006

    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Tashkent April 25-26, 2006 on a two-day state visit to Uzbekistan at the invitation of the Uzbek President, Islam Abduganievich Karimov who himself had visited India in April 2005. The visit will mark a new chapter in Indo-Uzbek relations.

    The close friendly relations between Uzbekistan and India have their roots deep in history. The eminent Uzbek scholar Al-Beruni visited India in the 11th century and wrote the famous book, Kitab-Takkik Al-Hind - one of the most authoritative books on Indian society and culture. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had visited Uzbekistan in 1955 and 1961 when it was part of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

    Uzbekistan's independence in August 1991 has led to the expansion and strengthening of bilateral ties between New Delhi and Tashkent in the political, economic and cultural spheres. India was the first country visited officially by President Karimov in August 1991. This was a historic visit outlining the framework for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries. Since then President Karimov has visited India thrice, in January 1994, May 2000 and April 2005. In May 1993, the then Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited Tashkent.

    Manmohan Singh's visit is the second by an Indian Prime Minister to Tashkent since Uzbekistan's independence. The political dialogue between India and Uzbekistan has been regular and mutually beneficial. High-level exchanges have indeed set the tempo to chart out the scope and direction of cooperation and have also laid the foundation for understanding of each other's interests and core concerns. Both countries subscribe to common principles of inter-state conduct, peaceful settlement of all differences, and rejection of extremism of all forms as well as the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

    India-Uzbek cooperation spans many areas such as economic and commercial, cultural, education and technical training in diverse disciplines, information technology, science and technology, agriculture and civil aviation, etc. India and Uzbekistan have signed as many as 60 agreements so far to promote cooperation in these diverse fields. It is expected that about eight agreements would be signed during Dr. Singh's ongoing visit. One of these could relate to Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) between ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) of India and Uzbekneftegaz Company of Uzbekistan. Military training and education is another important component of bilateral ties between New Delhi and Tashkent. An agreement to this effect was signed during President Karimov's visit to India in April 2005.

    Politico-military cooperation is an important part of bilateral ties. Given the changed geo-political situation in Central Asia, this assumes greater significance. The "Tulip Revolution" of March 2004 in Kyrgyzstan, and the "May 12-14 Unrest in Andijon" in Uzbekistan have influenced the geopolitics of Central Asia. The summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held in Astana on July 5-6, 2005 (India was admitted in the SCO as Observer) also draws attention to these events. The summit's call on the US-led "anti-terrorist coalition" to define a deadline for its military presence on the territory of SCO member-countries is a strong signal to be noted in this regard. Washington initially tried to deflect SCO's call by claiming that it was guided by bilateral agreements with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. However, Uzbek officials subsequently notified the United States on July 31, 2005 that US forces would have six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad (K-2) air base, located 90 miles north of the Afghanistan border. The US military flew its last plane out from K-2 on November 21, 2005.

    India and Uzbekistan have been playing a positive role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which has been the launching ground for incursions carried out by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Movement of Turkistan (IMT). These groups have declared goals to overthrow the secular and constitutionally elected governments of the Central Asian Republics and establish an Islamic Caliphate in the region. Extremist elements from the Central Asian Republics have reportedly been found fighting along with Pakistani mujahideen in Jammu & Kashmir. There is a clear nexus among the Islamic Revival Parties, the Islamic Movement of Turkistan, Jamat-e-Islami of Pakistan, Taliban and al Qaeda. We can afford to ignore these developments in our neighbourhood only at our own peril. A victory for extremist forces in Central Asia will boost the morale of extremist forces in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in India as well.

    Given their shared concerns over threats from religious fundamentalism, terrorism, extremism and cross-border terrorism, India and Uzbekistan have underlined the need to further strengthen secular and democratic ideas in international relations. In this regard, they are coordinating their efforts through a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Combating International Terrorism. The last meeting of JWG on Combating International Terrorism took place during October 28-November 1, 2005 in New Delhi and the next meeting is likely to take place in Tashkent later this year. Both countries emphasise the need for an early conclusion of the Comprehensive Convention on Combating International Terrorism. It is expected that this issue will figure in the Joint Statement, likely to be issued at the end of Dr Singh's visit to Uzbekistan. The two countries share common values such as secularism, tolerance and strong opposition to the forces of fundamentalism and terrorism. Signing of the Extradition Treaty between New Delhi and Tashkent during President Karimov's visit to India in May 2000 was a significant development in this direction.

    Energy security is paramount for a developing country like India, which has begun to grow at an accelerated pace. India's energy consumption is likely to grow at over 6 per cent per annum. Central Asian Republics could provide a modicum of energy security to India. Issues concerning energy are likely to figure prominently in talks between Dr. Singh and President Karimov. The main hurdle is how to bring hydrocarbons from Central Asia to India. In this regard, the issue of the transport corridor assumes significance. It is noteworthy that Uzbekistan will be an important connecting point in the new transport corridor between India and Central Asia, which is likely to come up soon. The new upcoming route connecting India to Central Asia via Mumbai - Chah Bahar - Zaranj - Delaran - Heart - Naibabad - Khairaton - Termez and further, has great potential. It will reduce the distance by 1500 kilometres when compared to the existing operational route, i.e., Mumbai-Bander Abbas-Mashhed-Turkmenabad (earlier Chahar Su)-Bukhara and further.

    Uzbek entrepreneurs can make use of the considerable experience of Indian industry in areas such as textiles (both cotton and silk), pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, information technology and processing of agricultural products, to name only a few. Indian businessmen have already shown interest to invest in some of these areas. Bilateral trade in the past remained in the range of $30 to $40 million per annum. It reached $108.6 million in 2003, very largely in favour of Uzbekistan and $ 120.9 million in 2004. But it dropped to $ 61.1 million in 2005. Recently, the Inter-governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technological Cooperation between India and Uzbekistan met in March 2006 in New Delhi to discuss ways and means to exploit the economic potential that exists between New Delhi and Tashkent. Inauguration of the Jawaharlal Nehru Information Technology Centre in Tashkent, built with Indian assistance, by Dr. Singh tomorrow is a step further in enhancing bilateral cooperation. The Centre has been built within the framework of scientific and technology cooperation between the two countries.

    In the field of defence, India had acquired six Ilyushin-78 in-flight refuelling aircraft from Uzbekistan. Indian aircraft are being regularly serviced at the Chekalov aircraft plant in Tashkent. There is great potential for co-operation between New Delhi and Tashkent in the aviation sector. The issue of military training and education will figure in bilateral talks between Dr. Singh and President Karimov. The Indian experience of fighting terrorism and insurgency could prove handy for Uzbekistan given the hotspots in Ferghana Valley and other parts of Uzbekistan.

    Cultural ties constitute an important pillar of our bilateral relationship. There is a very active Indian cultural centre in Tashkent, which, besides working closely with many Uzbek organizations, also conducts regular classes in Indian classical dance "Kathak", Tabla, Yoga, Hindi language and Indian studies. It is rather difficult to separate the past from the present while discussing Indo-Uzbek cultural ties. The past feeds and enriches the present and provides the ambience for the warm relations that exist between the two countries.

    In the final analysis, one can say that religious extremism and international terrorism would remain challenges to Central Asian security and stability. Indo-Uzbek cooperation would be an important part of the international coalition against such forces in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan appreciates the active and constructive stand taken by India on various regional and global issues, for example, the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the fight against international terrorism. Tashkent supports India's permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and resolution of Jammu & Kashmir issue through bilateral talks between New Delhi and Islamabad. India has been a supporter of evolutionary democracy. In pursuing policies for successful economic development with equity, every nation would have to effectively base them on its own history, culture and traditional value systems. Imitative policies, which reflect the conditions in other countries, are not likely to be effective.

    For Uzbekistan, India could emerge as a major market for its energy resources. Indications are that Uzbek enterprises and entrepreneurs would welcome Indian participation via joint ventures in areas like manufacture of electronic equipment, precision instruments, optical instruments, textiles, ready-made garments and leather goods. Uzbekistan is in a good position to supply items like phosphorous fertilizers, chemicals, aircraft and metals to India. Information Technology, hydrocarbons, North-South transport corridor, deepening of bilateral cooperation in the area of small and medium scale business and tourism appear to be candidate areas in Indo-Uzbek economic cooperation with high potential for success.

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