H.E. Sushma SWARAJ,
Minister of External (Foreign) Affairs of India
Kazakhstan and India: New Horizons for Cooperation
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev (right) meets with
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) July. 8, 2015 in Astana. (Akorda.kz)
I visited Astana in the salubrious weather of August and was warmly received by H.E. Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and by Prime Minister H.E. Bakytzhan Sagintayev. Before meeting them, I had an interaction with the Indian community, all of whom singularly praised the warmth and hospitality of the Kazakh people. The small Indian community is happy and feels welcomed in Kazakhstan.
It is in this background of warmth that India-Kazakhstan friendship has flourished. Historically, Central Asia and India have interacted for more than 2,000 years. Buddhist monks travelled to China through Central Asia and established Buddhism there. The carvings of Buddha, important Buddhist teachers and Sanskrit Shlokas at Tamgaly Tas in the Almaty region stand witness to the rich cultural contact between the two countries. The Sakas and Kushans came from this region to India. The Mughals had strong Central Asia connections and one of the famous Kazakhs known for his work “Tarikh-e-Rashidi," Mirza Muhammad Haidar Dughlati, is buried in Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. His grave was recently restored with the help of the Kazakh Embassy and Archeological Survey of India.
Official visit of Minister of External (Foreign) Affairs of India Sushma Swaraj (center right) to Kazakhstan. The joint photo was taken after meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov (center left) Aug. 3 in Astana.
India and Kazakhstan established diplomatic relations soon after Kazakhstan became independent. Since 2009, we have been strategic partners. Our interactions are multi-faceted, some aspects of which were captured in my bilateral interactions during the visit. In recent times, the bonds of friendship between the two countries have grown stronger by recent bilateral exchanges including the two visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a bilateral visit in 2015 and a second visit in 2017 to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. We are looking forward to receiving President Nursultan Nazarbayev in India in the near future.
One strong aspect of our interaction has been defence cooperation. It currently comprises military-technical cooperation, military education and training, joint exercises, bilateral visits, joint sports and adventure activities and a Youth Exchange Programme between the National Cadet Corps of India and Voenni Kafaedra (Cadet Corps) of Kazakhstan. Prabal Dostyk, the joint counter terrorism exercise of the two forces, started in 2016. This year, we have upgraded this joint exercise from a platoon to a company level and rechristened it KAZIND.
We are on course to implement the historic joint deployment of Kazakh army personnel with the Indian contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). India stands solidly committed to assist the UN in the maintenance of international peace and security with a proud history of UN peacekeeping dating back to its inception in the 1950s. India has contributed nearly 195,000 troops, the largest number from any country, participated in more than 49 missions and 168 Indian peacekeepers have made the supreme sacrifice while serving in UN missions. India has also provided and continues to provide eminent force commanders for the UN. India is the second largest troop contributor with 7,676 personnel deployed in 10 out of 16 active UN peacekeeping missions, of which 760 are police personnel. The first all-women contingent in peacekeeping mission, a Formed Police Unit from India, was deployed in 2007 to the UN Operation in Liberia (UNMIL).
A number of Kazakh army personnel benefit from our capacity building courses held under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. In 2018, there has also been participation in each other's defence expositions. India will also likely actively cooperate with Central Asian countries in tackling two of the big problems affecting our contiguous regions, terrorism and drug trafficking.
The India-Kazakhstan Inter Governmental Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technical, Industrial and Cultural Cooperation, established in 1993 and headed by the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas on the Indian side and by the Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources on the Kazakh side, has been meeting regularly and has so far held 13 sessions. It has formed a number of joint working groups in different areas, including trade and economic cooperation, connectivity, information technology and space cooperation among others. As a result, trade between the two countries reached $1 billion last year. We feel there is potential to further increase. Currently, lack of direct overland connectivity is affecting movement of goods and both countries are working on improving this situation. India has recently joined the Ashgabat Agreement and the Transports Internationaux Routiers (International Road Transport or TIR) convention and has been promoting the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). While Kazakhstan wants access to the Indian Ocean, which will open up vast and dynamic markets of South and Southeast Asia for Kazakh goods, improved access to Central Asia would also mean that India can access the transportation routes to Russia and European countries.
Central Asian countries are also important for India from the viewpoint of energy and mineral resources security. Kazakhstan already supplies uranium and crude oil to India and we are interested in procuring other mineral resources to meet the requirements of the fast-growing Indian economy. The oil and gas pipeline from Central Asia to South Asia will further integrate the two regions. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline project will bring natural gas from Turkmenistan to India. Kazakhstan, which has shown interest in joining the project, could also use this route to transport its own natural gas to India. India is also a ready market for agricultural products and manufactured goods from the Central Asian region.
What has amazed me are the great cultural links that Indian films and serials have established between India and the region. In each interaction, Bollywood films were recalled. Each generation has its own favorite film and actors. The favorite films of the region are not different from ours. People in Kazakhstan appear to have appreciated the family-oriented films and dramas from India that mirror the region's own traditions and culture. The news that shooting of a Bollywood film was likely near Almaty was greeted with joy by people, with some of them dreaming of having a real-life glimpse of their favorite Bollywood idols! This cultural similarity is a result of centuries of interaction between the Central Asian region and India. It is in this milieu of cultural similarity and geographical proximity that relations between India and Central Asia have flourished and attained new heights.
Kazakhstan was one of the co-sponsors of the UN General Resolution declaring June 21 as the International Day of Yoga in 2014 and since then, Yoga Day has been observed in many cities of Kazakhstan. This year, the Indian Embassy had a week-long yoga programme combining the celebration of 20 years of Astana with 70 years of India's independence with the theme “Astana @20 and India @70." A new city of republican significance Shymkent was added to the yoga calendar of the Embassy this year and I was informed that the programme there ended with the participants playing with gulal (coloured powder), thus combining yoga with the Indian festival of Holi!
Many Kazakhs avail themselves of scholarships offered by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations for graduate and post-graduate courses and capacity building courses under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme. I have heard that these courses are highly commended and India will be ready to expand this interaction by offering more slots and tailor-made courses as per the requirement of Kazakhstan. Recently, 25 English teachers from schools of different regions of Kazakhstan were trained at the English and Foreign Language University of Hyderabad. This has been well appreciated and we hope to continue this course for the English teachers for the next few years. On the other hand, we acknowledge the contribution of Kazakhstan in imparting medical education to some of our students. Currently, there are around 3,200 of Indian students studying at various universities of the country.
Swami Vivekanand Cultural Centre in Astana, which is the cultural wing of the Embassy, also offers classes in Indian dance, music, yoga and Hindi language. The Centre for Indian Classical Dance in Almaty run by Akmaral Kainazarova, who was trained at Kalakshetra, the famous dance academy of India, runs courses in classical and contemporary dance, yoga and Hindi. Similarly, Al Farabi Kazakh National University of Almaty, which has a Department of Indology, offers specialisation in Indian studies and classes in Hindi. A school in Almaty named after Mahatma Gandhi hosts an annual Mahatma Gandhi chess tournament. On Oct. 2, we will start several programmes commemorating the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation and the leader of our freedom struggle, an inspirational figure for the whole world. Many of these programmes will also be hosted in Kazakhstan, where he is held equally in high esteem.
There is a good bilateral flow of tourists. While tourists from Kazakhstan are likely to visit the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and admire the Taj Mahal, the monument of eternal love, and the beaches of Goa and Kerala, tourists from India delight in viewing the snowcapped mountains of Tien Shan, which reminds them of our own Himalayas. With easing of visa regimes from both sides, tourism is likely to increase in the coming years.
Kazakhstan is a young nation, yet it has made its mark in the international arena and is playing a constructive role in many world processes and bodies. India is one of the founding members of the Conference of Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), an Organisation that embodies the vision of Kazakhstan and President Nazarbayev of promoting peace, security and stability in Asia. It is not a coincidence that the move to establish CICA was backed by an equally visionary personality of India, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, who participated in the first CICA summit held in Almaty in 2002. It is also apt that India was welcomed as an observer and member of SCO in 2005 and 2017, respectively, when Kazakhstan held its chairpersonship. In 2017-2018, Kazakhstan became the first country from the Central Asia region to become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, where its work is being appreciated by one and all.
In 20 years, Kazakhstan has built a splendid capital, Astana, which is now hosting major world events and a number of initiatives such as the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, the Astana Economic Forum and Astana talks on Syria. India was happy to participate in EXPO 2017. All these achievements in a short span of time are, in no small measure, due to the visionary leadership and the great talent of the people of Kazakhstan. India will continue to strengthen and deepen relations with Kazakhstan in the years to come.
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