Boosting trade, energy, connectivity and counter-terrorism efforts, besides steps to promote people-to-people links, will be high on the agenda during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eight-day tour to five Central Asian countries, which commenced on Monday. In Russia’s Ufa, he will also be attending the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits.
Modi reached Uzbekistan on Monday afternoon. He will be visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan from July 6 to 8, after which he will attend the BRICS and SCO summits from July 8 to 10. He will visit Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan from July 10 to 13.
Modi’s visit to Central Asia is a logical extension of his earlier initiatives — “Look East and Link West policies” — in improving relations with neighbouring countries. The tour is historic as he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to visit all the five Central Asian States in a single tour.
The SCO Summit, to be held in Ufa, may see India getting the membership of the six-nation grouping comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which could be a major highlight of the visit. As of now, India has only an observer status.
During the visit to five Central Asian nations, the focus will be on enhancing trade, which is “not impressive”, and cooperation in energy and security sectors, the ministry of external affairs said.
An effort will also be made to push the Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project, which is crucial for India’s energy needs as it will carry gas from Central Asia. It has been hampered because of lack of physical connectivity.
India launched the ‘Connect Central Asia’ Policy in June, 2012. It focuses on high-level visits, strategic partnerships, comprehensive economic engagement, development of energy sources and natural mineral resources, e-networks, land connectivity etc.
However, the main problem in the region is inadequate connectivity which causes a lot of bottlenecks. It is in this context discussions to utilise the International North-South Transport Corridor to promote trade are being held. The proposal for a new pipeline from Kazakhstan is under consideration and the development of the Chahbahar port in Iran will help in providing access through Afghanistan.
Several rounds of discussions have taken place about India’s admission to the Eurasian Economic Community, the membership of which will help India connect seamlessly with this important economic grouping of around 200 million people.