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Time to Engage Uzbekistan in a Comprehensive Manner
Gaurav Kumar
2018-09-14
Region : Asia, India, Central Asia, Uzbekistan,
Issue : Security, Terrorism, Politics,
There are only a handful of countries that is enthusiastically debated in India. The arc of Indian foreign policy discussion often is limited to countries which are of economic or defence significance to India. India’s strategic interests in policy deliberation have limited actors in South Asia, West Asia, South East Asia and of late countries like Iran and Japan, apart from few western countries. Even its global policy outreach is limited to selective countries. In its neighbourhood or immediate neighbourhood policy, particularly in Central Asia is limited to Afghanistan, which stands at the crossroad of South and Central Asia. Although the ties between the two countries are ancient, the renewed engagement is still in its formative stage, and India appears keen to expand the horizon of its involvement with or influence in some of the central Asian countries. Uzbekistan is one country with which India is trying to connect more actively.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is expected to make his first visit to India in the first week of October 2018. The visit is following closely External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj official visit to Uzbekistan on 4-5 August 2018. During her visit India and Uzbek leaders shared wide ranging talks diversifying the trade basket, prospects of cooperation in space, expansion of defence cooperation, exchange of parliamentary delegations, cultural performances in each other’s countries, promotion of two-way tourist flows were the topics for bilateral cooperation. Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) of Uzbekistan - Chairman of State Investment Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Mr. Suhrob Rustamovich Kholmuradov visited India during 24-28 June 2018 to participate in the meeting of Annual meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan Mr. Abdulaziz Kamilov was in India in February. The 11th meeting of the Uzbek-Indian intergovernmental commission for trade, economic and scientific and technical cooperation was held in Tashkent on 16 August. A delegation included over 100 representatives of state bodies and companies of India.
The year 2018 has been a period of comprehensive engagement between Uzbekistan and India. The changing geopolitics and the resultant emerging convergence of interests are at the root of the synergy between the two countries. India is keen to build concrete relations with Uzbekistan beyond the nostalgia of historical and cultural terms of relations. The primary drivers of Indo-Uzbek relations are linked to Uzbekistan’s geostrategical importance. It is the only Central Asian country that borders every other central Asian country, including Afghanistan. It is rich with oil and natural gas, and has been under intense development of late.
China Factor
China is ambitiously pursuing its ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative in central Asian countries. The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway was officially opened to traffic on 25 February 2018. The highway is expected to play instrumental role in pushing trade and business from the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang to the Amu Darya River Basin in Central Asia, as well as a significant part of the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor. The Uzbek government believes it will save 2.5 million USD of transportation expenses per year and bring more than a million jobs for the region along the route. Similarly, Uzbekistan's first 19.2-kilometer Kamchiq railway tunnel, built by a Chinese company is expected to contribute to the country's economic development. The Chinese aim is to provide better connectivity to the central Asian countries, which in turn will help it pursue its interest in the region. India is wary of growing Chinese imprint in the region, at the same time it knows its limitation. India lacks resources and capabilities to engage in similar kind of infrastructure projects in the region. There are some sectors like food processing, Pharma, textiles and tourism that India’s strong point, and which can help strengthen bilateral cooperation and boost economic ties between the two countries. In 2016-17, the trade between the two countries was USD 155.76 million. They have fixed a target of taking bilateral trade to USD 1 billion by 2020. India can avail the facilities provided by the Chinese projects in the region and can expand its influence in the region.
Regional Stability
Uzbekistan is playing key role in promoting regional security. India as a stable and democratic country can support Uzbekistan to play greater role in the conflict in the region. Uzbekistan recently organised an international peace conference on Afghanistan during which the Uzbek leader offered to host peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Various regional and international countries participated in the conference and the Tashkent Agreement was signed which acknowledged that peace and security in Afghanistan are essential for ensuring stability and prosperity in the region. India wants peace and stability in the region in order to expand its engagement with the central Asian and the Eurasian region. Uzbekistan’s dominant role in shaping the outcome of the conflict in a positive manner will be to India’s advantage.
India has launched this “Connect Central Asia Policy” which was formally declared at Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) by our Minister of State (External Affairs) in June 2012. It aims to expand its role in the region, and the current government has shown the zeal to nurture its relation with the central Asian countries. In this regard, Uzbekistan can be the key to India’s pivot to the region.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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