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Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) invited Amb. Peter Burian, European Union’s Special Representative for Central Asia, on February 10, 2017 to deliver a talk on EU’s perspective and strategy for Central Asia. His address was followed by a brief presentation by Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, on “India’s perspective on Relations with Central Asian Republics”. The event was chaired by Amb. D. P. Srivastava, former Ambassador of India to Iran.
In his address, Amb. Burian listed out EU’s priority areas in its engagement with Central Asia. EU considers development of inter-continental and intra-regional connectivity as a high priority area. In recent years, EU has been trying to enhance its trade and investmentsin the CARs, which would ultimately lead to the integration of the Central Asian market into the global market. Moreover, EU treats energy cooperation as another priority area. While the proposed Nabucco pipeline could not be materialized, now EU is working on ‘Southern Gas Corridor’ to bring in Central Asian energy into Europe.EU has pledged to provide knowledge, expertise and support to the CARs in developing various sectors of the economy. The Ambassador asserted that EU’s engagement in Central Asia should be seen as contribution, and not competition. Though EU is alarmed by heavy presence of Russia and China in the region, it does not see it as a threat, commented Amb. Burian.
The Ambassador reiterated that security and stability in the region is of prime importance.There are concerns about proliferation of violent extremism and radicalization in Central Asia. Increasing number of Central Asians joining the Islamic State(IS), coupled with the spread of IS activities in Afghanistan, has direct bearing on regional security. The ambassador mentioned that 60% ofthe IS elements in northern Afghanistan are from Central Asia. However, he also remarked that the IS strength in Afghanistan is sometime exaggerated by Russia, in order to maintain its strategic control on CARs. Amb. Burian further argued that the CARs should strengthen democratic processes and introduce reforms in order to address the root cause of radicalization.
Amb. Burian said that EU and India share similar priorities in the Central Asian region, and therefore, can cooperate in various sectors. He called for greater Indian presence in the region through enhanced political and economic engagements. Being the biggest democracy in the world, India can play a greater role in promoting democracy and rule of law in the CARs, maintained the Ambassador. It was further stated that EU is positively looking at developing north-south connectivity, between India and Europe, through the CARs.
In his presentation, Amb. Sajjanhar asserted that India considers CARs as its extended neighborhood and a priority area. Indian engagements in the region were boosted after PM Modi’s visit to all five CARs in July 2015. He maintained that security and stability in India is intrinsically linked with that in Central Asia. India has raised concerns about evolving situation in Afghanistan and spread of terrorist groups like IS and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Amb. Sajjanhar also commented that India and EU can cooperate in Central Asia in the field of democracy and rule of law as also in the fields of connectivity, commerce and trade