What’s in the news?
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the first India-Central Asia Summit with the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Highlights of the Summit
- PM Modi proposed a number of high-level exchanges between the two sides, including bi-annual summits, and annual meetings of the Foreign, Trade and Cultural Ministers and Secretaries of Security (National Security Advisors) to strengthen cooperation in the areas of political and development, partnership, trade and connectivity, culture and tourism and security.
- These proposals were accepted, along with a plan to build a “Central Asia Centre” in New Delhi. They also announced two “Joint Working Groups” (JWGs) on Afghanistan and the Chabahar port project.
- The summit ended with the issue of the “Delhi Declaration” joint statement which stressed that further development of mutual connectivity is essential for enhanced trade and commerce between India and Central Asian countries in the context of their land-locked nature and lack of overland connectivity with India.
- The Leaders emphasised that connectivity projects deserve priority attention and could be a force-multiplier for trade and economic cooperation and contacts between countries and people.
- The leaders discussed possibilities of increasing Indian trade with the region beyond the currently low levels of about $2 billion, welcoming options over sea provided by Iranian ports including the Chabahar port terminal managed by Indian and the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) through Bandar Abbas that is promoted by Russia and Iran, and which is due to include both Chabahar and Turkmenistan’s Turkmenbashi port.
- Notably, the joint statement recorded that President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had “stressed on the importance of TAPI gas pipeline project” that runs from Turkmenistan’s Galknyshk oil fields near Mary (Marv) through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India, but did not record any support from India on the project.
- The TAPI project, which was inaugurated in 2015, has run into issues over India-Pakistan tensions and the situation in Afghanistan, though the Taliban officials announced after talks earlier this month that they hope to restart work on the pipeline in September 2022. Turkmenistan plans to hold an International Ministerial Transport Conference for Landlocked Developing Countries, in April 2022, which may discuss TAPI further.
- The India-Central Asia summit, that marked 30 years of diplomatic relations, came two days after a similar China-Central Asia Conference was held where Chinese President Xi Jinping offered $500 million in assistance and pledged to ramp up trade to $70 billion from the present levels of about $40 billion a year.