Welcome Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director VIF during the Round Table Discussion on India-Central Asia Relations on 23 Jan 2020
Excellencies,

I would like to welcome and thank Amb. Yerlan Alimbaye V, Amb. of Kazakhstan; Amb. Asein Isaev, Ambassador of Kyrgyz Republic; Amb. Sulton Rahimzoda, Ambassador of Tajikistan; Amb. Shalar Geldynazarov, Ambassador of Turkmenistan; Amb. Farhod Arziev, Ambassador of Uzbekistan, and Dr. Ali Chegeni, Ambassador of Iran to today’s round table to discuss India-Central Asia relations.

I am grateful to Ambassador Pankaj Saran, Deputy National Security Advisor, Govt. of India, Ambassador Manish Prabhat, Joint Secretary Eurasia Division, MEA for having accepted our invitation to participate in today’s discussions.

For their presence today I also tank the former ambassadors, experts and academicians who have deep insights into the region, having represented India in Central Asian countries in the past.

The discussion is being held in accordance with the Chatham house rules. Nothing will be attributed to any specific person. This will facilitate an open dialogue.

Friends,

India’s relations with the Central Asian region have gained significant momentum in the recent past. Prime Minister Modi visited all the Central Asian states in 2015. The maiden India-Central Asia Dialogue at the Foreign Minister’s level was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan in January 2019. Former Indian EAM Smt Sushma Swaraj had described India and Central Asian countries as “natural partners”. She had underscored the need to “build a modern and comprehensive partnership” between India and Central Asian countries. She had announced a number of fresh initiatives to enhance G2G cooperation between India and Central Asia and proposed setting up of an ‘India-Central Asia Development Group’ to assist the developmental partnership between India and CARs. India will host the next India-Central Asia Dialogue in 2020.

India and Iran have a civilizational relationship. Iran remains a close partner for India. Recently, the Iranian foreign minister was in India for the Raisina Dialogue. Iran provides important connectivity between India and Central Asia. Recently, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar met with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran where the two sides reiterated that Chabahar Port has the potential to act as a gateway between India and Central Asia. Projects such as Chabahar port and International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) have the potential to facilitate India-Central Asia connectivity.

India’s trade with the Central Asian countries is unfortunately much below the potential. Currently, it is below 2 billion USD. The lack of connectivity is one reason. We need to take some innovative steps to redress the situation.

India-Afghan Air Corridors have been successful. Following that example, India is engaged in promoting dialogue on air corridors, which would provide an activity in the region. It has also called upon the CARs to participate in the Chabahar Port project.

Terrorism remains a key concern for the countries in the region. In bilateral and multilateral dialogue, India has underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach aimed at international cooperation to curb this menace.

The resolution of the Afghan problem will go a long way in curbing terrorism and drug trafficking. India supports a peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Durable peace cannot be achieved by appeasing the Taliban. They should be persuaded to give up violence and be genuine about the reconciliation process. They gains of the last 18 years in Afghanistan must be preserved and not lost.
Since India became a full member of the SCO, it has made several constructive proposals on regional cooperation in different fields. India has also been participating in the CICA conferences.

We must, however, recognize that despite the efforts on both sides, India’s relations with Central Asia are far below their true potential. The reasons for this must be identified frankly and candidly. A constructive and realistic approach should be adopted to address the current issues. Think tanks can help in facilitating productive and open discussions. Today’s dialogue is an attempt to have a frank conversation about the current state of our relationship and generate ideas for raising its trajectory.

Thank you.

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