Originally Published 2011-04-29 00:00:00 Published on Apr 29, 2011
While the bilateral relation between India and Kazakhstan has strengthened in the past few years, accessibility remains a major obstacle to our economic cooperation. Given the present problems, India, in the immediate future, needs to focus on the Iranian route and the North-South Corridor.
India, Kazakhstan need to look beyond economic cooperation
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the resource rich Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan from 15-16 April was a breakthrough in our bilateral relations. Seven important agreements signed during this visit are :

    Agreement between India's ONGC Videsh Ltd. and Kazakhstan's National Company "Kazmunaigas" for joint exploration of the Satpayev block.

    Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy

    Joint Action Plan for furthering the Strategic Partnership between the two countries (Road Map) for the period of 2011-2014.

    MOU between Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Department of Information Technology of India and Kazakhstan Computer Emergency Response Team (Kz-Cert).

    Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Civil matters

    Cooperation in agriculture and allied sectors

    Cooperation in healthcare.

India gained 25% stake in the Satpayev block, marking India's entry in the region's hydrocarbon sector. The Satpayev block covering an area of 1482 sq. km is close to some of the prime discoveries. The agreement on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy is yet another milestone in our relation. The agreement deals with cooperation in "fuel supply, nuclear medicine, use of radiation technologies for healthcare including isotopes, reactor safety mechanisms, exchange of scientific & research information, exploration and joint mining of uranium, design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants etc".1  Back in 2009 during President Nazarbayev's visit to India, the MOU for Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy was signed by the two countries.

The document on the Joint Action Plan (Road Map) for the period 2011-2014, which outlines the projects to be undertaken by the two countries in this period, reflects the desire on both sides to build a meaningful partnership.  India during this visit also showed interest in setting up an India-Kazakhstan Centre of Excellence at the Eurasian University in Astana, enhancing further India's presence in the Republic's IT sector. 

While the bilateral relation has strengthened in the past few years, accessibility remains a major obstacle to our economic cooperation. Pakistan's reluctance to allow India to transit goods through its territory is a hindrance, which is unlikely to change in the near future. The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan makes any route through Afghanistan not feasible. Given the present situation, India in the immediate future, needs to focus on the Iranian route and the North-South Corridor. The Joint Statement also noted the need for "identifying secure and cost-effective transport connectivity between the two countries, including for transportation of cargo with the participation of third countries".2

Convergence of interests on various political and international issues has been instrumental in improving the bilateral understandings. Both countries share similar concerns about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and international terrorism. Indicating the strategic interest in maintaining stability in Afghanistan, the Joint Statement signed during the visit stated that both countries are interested in "early settlement of the Afghanistan situation and positively assessed the contribution by both countries in the reconstruction of Afghanistan".

Kazakhstan supported India in the Nuclear Supplier Group Meeting during the Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear deal. The Republic has always supported India's candidature as a permanent member to the UN Security Council. India during this visit supported Kazakhstan's membership as the non-permanent member for 2017-2018 at the UN Security Council. Kazakhstan also indicated its support for greater Indian role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which India joined as observer in 2005. India has actively participated in the meetings of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) since its inception. Both countries have agreed for visa free entry for Diplomatic and Official passport holders.

India's 'soft power' image has made it acceptable to the Central Asian Republics. Kazakhstan too is interested in building stronger relation with India, which it views as a friendly country. India has managed an impressive economic growth rate in spite being an economy with ethnic, religious, cultural and language diversity, making it a role model for Kazakhstan, which too has a diverse population. India can also help Kazakhstan by providing English language training courses for its people.

Kazakhstan has emerged as an important partner for India in the region. It is the only country in the region to have a strategic partnership with India, signed in 2009. The Republic has huge reserves of hydrocarbon and other mineral resources. With 39.8 thousand million barrels of oil, Kazakhstan has the largest oil reserves and with 1.82 trillion cubic metres of gas, it has the second largest gas reserves in the region . The country today is the largest producer of uranium. In addition to its abundant natural resources, the country has enjoyed relative political and economic stability, helping it to emerge as a significant country in the region.3 Kazakhstan is India's largest trade partner in the region. The bilateral trade in 2009-2010 was US$ 291.44 million4. India's relation with Kazakhstan will play a decisive role in determining India's presence in the region.

Two important institutional mechanisms available today for bilateral discussions are- Foreign Office Consultations at the level of Deputy Foreign Ministers and the India-Kazakhstan Inter-Governmental Commission working to promote bilateral trade, economic, scientific, technological, industrial and cultural cooperation. Regular high-level meetings would help to resolve the bottlenecks and pave way for constructive engagement.

The highlights of the Prime Minister's visit were the bilateral economic agreements. However, both countries need to look beyond only economic cooperation. Efforts for a deeper and extensive bilateral relation would be mutually beneficial.

Strengthening relation with Kazakhstan has helped India to gain foothold in the region. However, it is important for India to engage bilaterally with the other four Central Asian Republics too.

(Angira Sen Sarma is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi).

1 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Accessed at http://meaindia.nic.in/meaxpsite/declarestatement/2011/04/16js03.pdf.
2 Joint Statement on PM's visit to Kazakhstan, 16 April 2011, Accessed at http://meaindia.nic.in/mystart.php?id=530517550.
3 B.P. Statistical Review of World Energy 2010, Accessed at http://www.bp.com/productlanding.do?categoryId=6929&contentId=7044622.
4 Export Import Data Bank, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Commerce, Government of India, Accessed at.

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