India, Central Asian states have similar concerns, objectives in Afghanistan: Jaishankar
The impact of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on regional security, post-pandemic recovery and steps to boost regional connectivity and trade were in focus as the foreign ministers of India and the five Central Asian states held their third dialogue on Sunday.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar set the stage for the discussions, saying in his televised opening remarks that India and the Central Asian states have similar concerns and objectives in Afghanistan, including the formation of an inclusive government, the fight against terrorism, and ensuring unhindered humanitarian assistance.
Jaishankar called for diversified supply chains and regional solutions to overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and bolster economic recovery. He also called for a focus on 4Cs – commerce, capacity enhancement, connectivity and contacts – to take ties between India and Central Asia to the next level.
India is hosting the third edition of the dialogue, which began in 2019. This year’s event was joined by the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who skipped a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Afghanistan hosted by Pakistan on Sunday. All the Central Asian states are members of the OIC and were represented at the meet in Islamabad by deputy foreign ministers or other ministers.
Most of the Central Asian foreign ministers spoke of the need to build on the historical and cultural ties of their region with India and highlighted the potential for cooperation in areas such as connectivity, transport, transit and energy. They also referred to the security cooperation between Central Asia and India, including in the context of Afghanistan.
“We all...share deep-rooted historical and civilisational ties with Afghanistan. Our concerns and objectives in that country are similar: a truly inclusive and representative government, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, ensuring unhindered humanitarian assistance and preserving the rights of women, children and the minorities,” Jaishankar said in his opening remarks.
“We must find ways of helping the people of Afghanistan,” he added.
Uzbekistan’s foreign minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, in his opening remarks, pointed to the “challenging situation in neighbouring Afghanistan” and spoke of the “need to develop a unified and coordinated approach towards this country”. Kyrgyz foreign minister Ruslan Kazakbaev described India as a strategic partner for all the Central Asian states. He noted security has a special place in this relationship and said Kyrgyzstan will collaborate on all measures to make the region safer.
With the leaders of the five Central Asian states expected to be the chief guests at next year’s Republic Day celebrations, Turkmenistan’s foreign minister Rashid Meredov said Sunday’s meeting would be a “key event in the preparation process for the upcoming Central Asia-India Summit in January”.
Jaishankar called for a collective response to the challenges facing the region, including the impact of Covid-19 on global health and economy, and said the pandemic had changed societies, supply chains and governance. It had also highlighted the inadequacy of existing multilateral structures to meet new and emerging threats, he said.
“We need diversified supply chains and more regional solutions. India has been steadfast in its resolve for the fight against Covid-19,” he said, noting that India had supplied Covid-19 vaccines to more than 90 countries, including Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
He thanked all the Central Asian states for taking care of Indian students amid the pandemic.
With India and Central Asia facing the test of rebuilding their economies, Jaishankar said, “But together we can do this better and India, I assure you, will be your steadfast partner.
“We already have a good history of cooperation. But my message to you today is a readiness to take it to the next level. Our ties must now focus around 4Cs – commerce, capacity enhancement, connectivity and contacts.”
Kazakhstan foreign minister Mukhtar Tileuberdi said the India-Central Asia Dialogue is a great platform for discussions on topical issues and has boosted regional connectivity. He said Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is expected to visit India next year, coinciding with 30 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties.
“We welcome India’s active role and growing interest in Central Asia. Our region is now on a new development stage towards unprecedented convergence in politics, economy, trade and security... India has huge potential for Central Asia’s development,” Tileuberdi said.
Tajikistan foreign minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin said a growing trend of regional integration in Central Asia has created new opportunities for expanding cooperation between the region and India.