Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge at the helm of the Indian government, he has undertaken a number of strategic tours. Be it his US sojourn, or the tour of Canada, France, and Germany, or his trip to China, the Indian PM has become known for his high-profile visits – each with the mission to build economic and strategic ties across the world. PM Modi’s visits are highly publicised by the PMO and have become moot points for NRIs (non-resident Indians) who have shown him an overwhelming support.
In keeping with this “man of missions” image, PM Narendra Modi has now embarked on a visit to five Central Asian countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – apart from attending two multilateral summits in Russia. The eight day tour, between 6 and 13 July is intended to boost economic ties in Asia and also focus on strategic defence alliances.
What Brings Modi to Central Asia?
PM Modi visited Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan on 6 and 7 July respectively. Oil, natural gas, and energy are at the center of the trade ties between India and these Central Asian countries which are rich in natural resources and share a cultural legacy with India. Modi had promised to bring solidarity to Indian ties with these nations – a promise that he fully intends to keep.
In his visit, the Indian PM underlined India’s historic ties with Uzbekistan – that land of Babur’s birth and its importance in the Silk Route. With Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, Modi discussed various investment opportunities for India such as in the fields of tourism, and culture. Cyber security is one key field where the two countries have decided to build a strong partnership and work together. Another key point of discussion was the implementation of uranium supply from Uzbekistan. 2000 metric tonnes of the mineral is to be imported by India.
A similar Uranium pact was also signed with Kazakhstan; India will now import 5000 tonnes of the yellow mineral in the next four years. Kazakhstan and India also inked a number of MoUs related to trade and culture. India will most likely make a renewed effort at securing some of Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves – previous attempts having been waylaid by China.
Cultural ties formed one of the highlights of PM Modi’s agenda. Student exchange, linguistic developments, and religious tolerance were all discussed by the PM with the heads of these states. Yoga was discussed too.
The central Asian countries that PM Modi shall be covering in this tour are all extremely important in terms of the natural resources they hold and in their potential to form strategic alliances. These nations have been key suppliers of oil and natural gas for China and are now looking for a diverse market. PM Modi’s visit could not have been better timed. The PM also shall be soliciting the support of these countries in an effort to secure a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council.
International North-South Transport Corridor
The International North–South Transport Corridor is a trade route (using various modes such as ship, road, and rail) between India, Iran, Russia, and other Central Asian, and European nations. Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan are other routes, currently under consideration for addition to the existing corridor. PM Modi made a significant pitch to the heads of these countries to join the freight corridor. The trade implications of these are huge. Transportation of cargo shall be smooth and costs greatly reduced with the opening up of this corridor.
The Indian Prime Minister also sought support from the Central Asian countries for India joining the Ashgabat Agreement – another strategic cooperation for movement of freight and a transit route between Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Oman, and Kazakhstan.
Modi’s Security and Anti-terrorism Agenda
One of the major issues that shall be addressed in PM Modi’s visit to the Central Asian countries is defence and counter-terrorism. He delved straight into the issue in his Uzbekistan visit and the two nations agreed to set up a joint working group to counter terrorism and boost security in the region. With Kazakhstan, India has signed an agreement on defence and security cooperation, military exchange, joint exercises, and formation of a joint anti-terrorism unit.
In his visit to both Tajikistan and Turkmenistan also, we may expect significant military partnerships to be forged. Tajikistan is already a significant military ally since 2002 when it built an air base near the town of Farkhor. This base is a counter point to any possible malevolent advances by Pakistan. Strengthening these ties and formulating a unified front to the terrorist factions in Afghanistan has now become of supreme importance to maintain peace in the “extended neighbourhood”.
An important leg of PM Modi’s tour was his trip to the Russian city of Ufa to attend the Seventh BRICS Summit. Apart from the Indian PM, the summit was attended by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, President Xi Jinping of China, and President Jacob Zuma. Apart from a number of regional and global issues, the BRICS nations focused on the New Development Bank that was formed by the nations. The NDB has its headquarters in Shanghai and is likely to have an Indian head banker. The bank was formed to cater to the specific economic needs of the member nations and provide finance for infrastructure development in these countries.
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit
After over a decade of successful collaboration, the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) based in Beijing agreed to include India as a full member. The other members of the SCO are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India has currently been an observer in the group and PM’s attendance of the summit brought about the inclusion. PM Modi then addressed the group which included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In his address, the PM promised that India shall take keen interest in developing infrastructure in the region and forge economic ties with the member nations.
Meeting Nawaz Sharif
After almost a year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Ufa city. The meeting in itself was a strategic one and has been lauded by many in the country. Apart from agreeing on a significant cooperation to counter terrorism that has been the bane of both nations, Pakistan has also agreed to speed up the trial of the 26/11 terror attack accused. The 26/11 Mumbai attacks, one of the worst terror strikes in the country after independence, left over 166 people dead in Mumbai.
The meeting comes against the backdrop of Pakistani defence minister Khawaja Asif threatening to use nuclear weapons against India. Economic ties and trade negotiations found dominance in the talks between the two nations. PM Modi has also accepted Pakistan’s invitation to attend the SAARC Summit in 2016 to be held in Islamabad.
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