Pakistan blocking access to Central Asia: India
Pak's denial of transit to Indian goods through its territory is one of the main hurdles in India's bid to raise its economic and strategic stakes in Central Asia, says a top official.india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 21:45 IST
Pakistan's denial of transit to Indian goods through its territory and instability in Afghanistan are the chief hurdles in India's bid to raise its economic and strategic stakes in the oil-rich Central Asia, a top official said in New Delhi on Saturday.
"The Indian presence in Central Asia is below expectations primarily due to transit problems through Pakistan and Afghanistan," Rajiv Sikri, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said at a conference on Central and Southern Asian security.
The daylong seminar was organised at the India International Centre by SAPRA India Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank dealing with security issues.
India's diplomacy in Central Asia also found passionate support from Shashi Kapoor, veteran Hindi film actor who inaugurated the seminar.
"India and the beautiful countries of Central Asia share the language of the heart and a centuries-old culture," Kapoor said on the sidelines of the seminar.
"We have more in common with Central Asia than Russia in some ways. Our culture and outlook on life has a great deal of similarity," he said.
Although the land route from India to Central Asia via Pakistan is not longer than the distance between Delhi and Kolkata, the Pakistani government continues to refuse Indian goods access to Afghanistan, Sikri said.
"Even medical and relief supplies from India to Kabul are not allowed," he added.
Transit through Afghanistan continues to be a problem because of the continued instability in that country sparked by the resurgence of the remnants of the Taliban, Sikri said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had sought the help of the visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai early this week to use his "good offices" to persuade Pakistan to grant India overland transit rights.
Sikri also called for developing more air links between the two sides and relaxing restrictive visa regimes. "The increased flow of people would create more stakes and eventually more business," he added.
"India is emerging as an Asian power. It can use its cultural connections and its rising profile to promote stability in Central Asia," said Indranil Banerjie, executive director of the SAPRA India Foundation.
"China and India have a strategic dialogue mechanism which includes regional issues. Central Asia could be an area of further cooperation," said Chinese strategic expert Rong Ying.
Sikri cautioned major powers - a reference to the US, Russia and China - against using Central Asia as the chessboard for the "new great game" and underlined the spirit of cooperation in the region to tackle a "veritable cocktail of issues" like terrorism, religious extremism and drug trafficking.
"India seeks to stabilise the Central Asian states. Unless the great powers understand that this is not a zero-sum game but a cooperative venture, it would not be possible to stabilise the region," he added.