New Delhi: This was perhaps the real takeaway from the maiden India-Central Asia Summit held on Jan 27.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and leaders of other Central Asian countries in a long term visionary step agreed to work together to use Chabahar port for connecting Central Asia with India and further South Asia.
A working group on Chabahar will also be set up, Secretary West in the Ministry of External Affairs Reenat Sandhu told reporters in a virtual briefing on Thursday evening. The Central Asian leaders supported India's proposal to include Chabahar within the International
North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) framework, she said.
The INSTC is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road and the objective being to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas and Astrakhan.
India already has a trilateral mechanism with Iran and Uzbekistan, on the Chabahar port and now other Central Asian countries have also expressed interest in joining this initiative. "The INSTC is a functional route through the Bandar Abbas port of Iran that further passes through Azerbaijan or alternatively through Caspian Sea to Russia. Usage of this route can reduce the time taken from 40 to 45 days to 20 to 25 days between India and Russia as well as reduced cost by 30 to 40 percent," Ms Sandhu said.
The first India-Central Asia Summit held in virtual mode and hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was attended by Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Ms Sandhu further said, "Given the landlocked nature of Central Asian countries, and the lack of overland connectivity with India, there has been understandably a considerable emphasis on the need for promoting mutual connectivity to enhance trade and commerce between India and the Central Asian countries".
Both Russia and Iran are already key stakeholders and participants of the INSTC. "It is in the interest of all member countries of the INSTC that there is greater utilization of this route," she said adding, in addition, India is also a member of the Ashgabat agreement that New Delhi joined in 2018. This would enable connectivity between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
"India stands ready to plan, build, invest, and participate in connectivity projects based on the priorities of transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries," the Secretary said.
Answering questions, she said, Afghanistan is an "important issue" that concerns all and so things were discussed at length. "In broader terms, we share the same concerns and share the same objectives. The outcome document of the Delhi Security Dialogue of November 2021, reflected the regional consensus on major issues of regional stability and security".
The common priorities include, providing immediate humanitarian assistance, ensuring formation of a "truly representative and inclusive government, combating terrorism and drug trafficking and preserving the rights of women, children and minorities", Ms Sandhu emphasised. It was decided to establish a joint working group on Afghanistan at the senior officials level.
"India and Central Asian countries are committed to combating the menace of terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. Our security cooperation includes discussions and exchanges on all these matters," she said.