India and Central Asian nation Kazakhstan are keen on further widening defence partnership which includes joint production as well as co-development. “Both India and Kazakhstan have inked a Strategic Partnership treaty in 2009, and a Defence and Military Technical cooperation 2015. The two countries have several projects in hydrocarbon, education, pharmaceutical and other sectors,” says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU.
Kazakhstan is the most resource-rich country in Central Asia and is also India’s largest trade and investment partner. Total bilateral trade amounted to USD 1.2 bn between the two countries.
In a recently concluded visit, Defence Minister of Republic of Kazakhstan Lieutenant General Nurlan Yermekbayev and defence minister Rajnath Singh discussed ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation between the two countries.
According to the Ministry of Defence, on April 9, 2021, the two ministers met in New Delhi and the focus of the talks was on the bilateral defence cooperation, capacity building, training and military exercises. And both agreed to explore the possibility of defence industrial collaboration.
The visiting minister Lieutenant General Nurlan Yermekbayev expressed his country’s appreciation as the Kazakh troops are deployed as part of the Indian battalion in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The Kazakh minister, who was here on an official visit on the invitation of his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh, had also visited HQs 12 Corps at Jodhpur and the Longewala sector in Jaisalmer.
As has been reported earlier by Financial Express Online, Indian companies have been in talks with Kazakhstan defence industries for co-production and co-development in defence production. According to a senior officer in the Ministry of Defence, “During the recent talks between the two countries, the Central Asian nation is keen to develop joint projects with India in repair, maintenance and up gradation of military equipment.”
India-Kazakhstan Military Cooperation
According to officials, the military cooperation between the two countries has positive dynamics. Both are already having joint military Exercise KAZ-IND which is a significant step towards fostering military and diplomatic ties between the two countries. And the focus of this drill is to train and equip the contingents to undertake joint counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations in urban and rural environments under mandate of the United Nations.
And, as reported earlier, the future editions of Exercise KAZ-IND are expected to witness a progressive increase in the scope and content of combined training.
How can the two countries work together in joint production?
The Indian armed forces are using weapons systems of the Soviet era, and these systems need up-gradation. A lot of Kazakh companies in the defence sector have expertise in major naval platforms, there are immense opportunities for the Indian companies to work under a joint venture for the production of torpedoes, and other related systems. The Kazakh companies also have expertise in the platforms being used by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force.
Last October, a webinar between India and Kazakhstan was held which focussed on defence cooperation between the two countries and was organized under the aegis of Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence and industry body FICCI. BEL had announced its plans to open a representative office in Kazakhstan.
Many Indian companies including Ashok Leyland Limited, Zen Technologies, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Alpha Design Technologies and Bharat Electronics Limited. Had made product presentations on major platforms/equipment like Artillery Systems, Radars, Protected Vehicles, Missiles and Air Defence Equipments, and Training Solutions etc.
Both countries are in discussion on the possibility of developing a space communication system (satellite) KazSat-2R. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Space Agency of Kazakhstan are in discussions to develop a satellite jointly and a possible launch through the agency later on. Kazakhstan is host to the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Expert View on India-Kazakh Bilateral Relations & Central Asian countries
According to Prof Rajan Kumar, “The spectacle of great power politics is so tempting that we often belittle the significance of smaller countries in our extended neighbourhood. Hyper-media obsession with the US, China and Russia pushes the news item from these countries to the margins. Central Asian states figure in our mainstream media only when there is a summit meeting or some major violence in one of these states.”
“This is ironic because the kind of trust and goodwill that India generates in these states barely reflects in our consciousness here. The states of Central Asia share history, culinary tradition, literature and culture with India, but somehow we haven’t built up further on the soft power that exists,” he observes.
“The space of Central Asia is vital to India’s interests in the long-run. Russia is the source of political stability and security, but in the last two decades China has become the main investor through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Located in the middle of China and Europe, these states provide the necessary link to China’s road project. Initially, China focussed on security and acquiring hydrocarbon resources from these states, but in the last few years it has diversified to infrastructural and manufacturing activities. Kazakhstan is the main beneficiary of China’s BRI project. President Xi Jinping’s first and famous ‘Silk Road Speech” was delivered at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University in 2013,” Prof Rajan Kumar adds.
In his opinion, “India’s economic activities in Central Asia have been hampered by the absence of land-access, resource constraints, great-power politics and slow implementation of the projects. We visualised the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI), and the North South Transport Corridor projects long before China’s BRI, but our progress has been disappointing. Pakistan will never allow India the land-route access to Central Asia and our route through Chabahar and Bandar Abbas (Iran) has also been impacted due to the American sanctions. With the increasing influence of China on Iran, India will find it harder to develop its projects there.”
“There is a need to enhance people-to-people cooperation with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states. Acquiring a visa becomes a major hassle for academic communities, experts, businesspersons and tourists. The respective embassies of Central Asia and India should ease the visa-rules and ensure hassle-free travel to legitimate people. Travellers after all become the carriers of culture and tradition without a cost,” Prof Rajan concludes.