THE first woman President in any Central Asian Republic, a predominantly Muslim area, was sworn in Kyrgyzstan on July 2, after bloody ethnic violence in the country’s southern region, claimed according to one estimate, the lives of some 2,000 people, mostly from the minority Uzbeks. Three months earlier, on April 7, the then President Kurumanbek Bakiyev had imposed a state of Emergency in the country, noted for its chronic problems such as poverty, economic disarray, gross misgovernment, rampant corruption, incessant class struggle and so on. But he did not last. After violent clashes between the Kyrgyzs and the minority Uzbeks, Bakiyev resigned on April 15, and left the country.
Now Roza Otumbayeva, a former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States has taken over as temporary President. Her request for Russian aid to help restore peace was turned down by Russian President Dimitri Medvedev who, how-ever has reportedly agreed to work out a collective response from the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) of which he is the President. The members of the CSTO include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhistan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The large-scale killings were apparently ethnic in nature reflecting an uneasy mix of the majority Kyrgyz and the minority Uzbeks who form about 15 per cent of the state’ population and are concentrated largely in the south and are economically better off. Kyrgyzstan, incidentally, is the only country in the world that hosts separate military bases for the US as well as Russia.
The US wants to stay on in Kyrgyzstan because it gives easy access to NATO troops in Afghanistan. As many as 30,000 US troops are apparently stationed in and around Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, which it is said, bristles with C-17 cargo planes and KC-135 tanker planes that are always ready to reach Afghan skies for mid-air refueling of fighter planes. Though Kyrgyzstan was once part of the Soviet Union, Russia is currently chary of interfering in the internal affairs of the state, but has agreed to give roughly $ two billion to it by way of loans and aid.
The US reportedly has promised more. But the question may well be asked: In what way is Delhi concerned with the security and prosperity of its neighbour beyond the Himalayas? The truth is that India has been in recent times showing marked interest in enhancing its trade relations with all the Central Asian countries, including Kyrgyzstan, individually and collectively. The Mittals, for example, have invested in steel production in Temirtau, in the Karanganda region of Kazakhistan. Kyrgyzstan is also strategically important to India. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with Bishkek, an Indo-Kyrgyz Joint Commission on Trade and Diplomatic Relations as also Economic, Science and Technical Cooperation was formed and the Joint Business Council has held several meetings.
Actually, practically all the seven Central Independent States have been looking more towards India than toward Pakistan or, for that matter, even China. Many officials at the highest level, from both countries have been paying regular visits to each other’s Capital for detailed discussions since 1999, when the then Kyrgyz President HE Askar Akaev paid a state visit to India. An agreement had then been signed on avoidance of double taxation, mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and cultural exchange. President Akaev was later to pay another visit to India on August 7, 2002 when a wide range of bilateral and international issues were discussed, including Public Relations, Trade and Economic Cooperation and Indian technical assistance.
According to a Central Asian expert, Dr Ibrokhim R Mavlonov, a former Uzbek Ambassador to India, ” Kyrgyzstan is attaching over-riding significance to boosting cooperation with India in various directions”. According to him, there are several potential areas for Kyrgyzstan-India Joint Cooperation such as in food processing engineering goods, electronics, banking services and mining. The Kumtor gold mine is the largest such in Kyrgyzstan high in the mountains of Jeti-Oguz and has been very much in the news for bad management.
According to available information, Indian exports to Kyrgyzstan increased from $ 17.59 million in 2001 to $ 49.10 million in 2004-2005. Since 2004, Indian companies have been regularly sending delegations to Kyrgyzstan to promote trade in the areas of agro-products, tea, jewellery etc and cooperation in the fields of gold and diamond mining, cotton processing etc. There have been talks between the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and its Kyrgyz counterpart, the Kyrgyz Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The point to note is that all seven independent countries of Central Asia are deeply interested in links with India. The point was stressed by Dr Mavlonov, according to whom “the unique feature of Indian economy has been high growth with stability” apart from its “proven strength and resilience”. As he put it: “It once again confirms that India’s economic strength shows that India is not only a reliable business partner, but one of the best experienced country in the Asian region that can, with its economic potential, promote active economic development in Central Asian region”. Leaders of almost all the Central Asian countries have, in the last one decade, paid state visits to Delhi and have been apparently quite impressed with what they have witnessed. India needs to cultivate all of them . Indians are held in high regard and it is generally recognised that it has become “the second fastest growing economy in the world”. The Uzbeks, too, have appreciated India’s technological usefulness and as with Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, too has signed treaties of cooperation in much the same areas such as transportation, construction, information technology, food processing, textiles, pharmaceuticals etc and a quick beginning was soon thereafter made when India helped in computerization of three top post offices and set up an Indo-Uzbek IT Centre in Tashkent.
Nothing succeeds like success and India’s success in many fields is not only admired but is sought to be made use of in diverse ways. A positive Indian presence in Central Asia is most desirable, if only to keep some of its competitors out. India, it seems, has learnt the ancient art of making friends and influencing people in strategic areas in Asia.