Event ReportsPublished on Dec 18, 2008
Experts identified trade in hydrocarbons and uranium as the two important cogs of bilateral energy cooperation
India-Kazakhstan conference recommends increasing trade ties

A two day International conference on “India-Kazakhstan Engagement: Issues and Prospects” was organised by Observer Research Foundation on 18-19 December 2008 at its New Delhi campus. Kazakh and Indian experts participated in the deliberation. The Conference dealt with broad issues like security, regional politics and bilateral relations between India and Kazakhstan.

The Kazakh delegation was led by Dr. Marat Shaikhutdinov, Director of the Institute of World Economics and Policy (IWEP). Other Kazakh experts in the delegation were-Mr. Adil Kaukenov, Director, Centre for Chinese Studies, IWEP, Mr. Marat Nurgaliyev, Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr. Fatima Kukeyeva, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and Dr. Murat Laumulin, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Among the Indian participants were Mr. M. Rasgotra, President ORF-Centre for International Affairs, Mr. Rajiv Sikri, a former Indian Diplomat, Prof. P. Stobdan, Senior Fellow, IDSA, Dr, Sujit Dutta, Senior Fellow, IDSA, Prof. Nirmala Joshi, Mr. Umashankar Sharma, General Manager, ORF-Centre for Resource Management, Mr. Nandan Unnikrishnan, Senior Fellow, ORF, Ms. Angira Sen Sarma, Associate Fellow, ORF and others.

Initiating the discussion Mr. Rajiv Sikri pointed out the main security threats prevailing in the region. The competition among external players, turmoil in the Ferghana valley, spread of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, instability in Afghanistan, Xinjiang issue, narcotics trade and unresolved status of the Caspian Sea are some of the issues threatening the region. Mr. Sikri also warned that the region should not be used as “launch pad against India”. Prof Nirmala Joshi echoed the same view. It is important for India to have a stable, democratic, independent and a secular Central Asia.

Close cooperation between India and Kazakhstan will help to address common concerns said Dr. Shaikhutdinov. Stability in Afghanistan is vital and relying on a military solution is not enough to resolve the Afghan crisis. India and Kazakhstan could cooperate to find a resolution to the Afghanistan crisis and also jointly contribute in the reconstruction process. Here Dr. Shaikhutdinov pointed out the failure of the bilateral Joint Working Group established in 2002 to fight terrorism.

The role of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was also discussed. India can use the SCO platform to address some common issues. Dr. Sujit Dutta emphasized that India as an observer in the SCO should put forward the proposal to open the Xinjiang -India trade corridor to facilitate trade with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian Republics. The various dilemmas within the Organisation make it difficult for India to actively participate in the Organisation.

The importance of Iran in maintaining peace and stability in the region was also voiced in the discussion, highlighting the need to engage Iran in the regional dialogue process.

Participants agreed that in spite of common interests, the level of trade between the two sides is abysmally low. There is an urgent need to increase the trade volume, which is at present around 200 US $million only, said Ms. Angira Sen Sarma. The potential for Indo-Kazakh cooperation in the energy sector was highlighted by Mr. Umashankar Sharma. He identified hydrocarbon and uranium as the two important areas of bilateral energy cooperation.

The broad areas of economic cooperation outlined were- energy sector, Information Technology, small and medium industries etc. The need to develop direct access to improve bilateral trade was put forward by all participants. Any economic linkage between South Asia and Central Asia should include India and not end in Pakistan. It is in interest of all that there is win-win situation rather than a zero sum game. The need for more Indian investment to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation was also pointed out.

India’s position in Central Asia is security driven, said Prof Stobdan and has no ‘political ambition for dominance’ in the region. India is not there as part of the scramble for resources. India wants to engage constructively in the region. It was pointed out that Kazakhstan is the key to ‘Central Asian dynamics’. Increase people to people contact through exchange of films, libraries, sports and tourism can facilitate in bringing the two sides closer. India needs to play a more active role in the region.

In conclusion a few recommendations to both the governments emerged: an increase in number of flights between India and Kazakhstan, a comprehensive economic and nuclear agreement; promotion of tourism, identifying specific areas to promote trade and cooperation in education. Kazakhstan can benefit from India’s skill in IT, financial sector and English language, stressed Mr. Rasgotra. In future, he said, common issues like climate change, water management too need to be addressed to broaden the level of bilateral cooperation.

An Agreement of Cooperation between Institute of World Economics and Policy, Kazakhstan and Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi was signed at the end of the conference.

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