The Indian Council of World Affairs, in association with the Center for International Relations Studies (CIRS), Tashkent, hosted the Third India-Uzbekistan Think Tanks Forum in virtual mode on 19 January 2022. Discussions were held under three themes of ‘priority directions of the agenda of the bilateral strategic partnership – green development and digitalization’, ‘prospects for the development of trade and economic relations’ and ‘building social ties’. Scholars and former Ambassadors representing think tanks and universities and industry chambers participated in the Dialogue.
The Opening Session was addressed by Amb. Vijay Thakur Singh, DG, ICWA; Amb. Daniyar Kurbanov, Director, CIRS; Amb. Manish Prabhat, Amb. of India to Uzbekistan; remarks by Amb. Dilshod Akhatov, Amb. of Uzbekistan to India, were read by an Embassy representative. Amb. Vijay Thakur Singh welcomed all the participants and said that the meeting is taking place at a time when India’s engagement with the Central Asian states has reached the milestone of 30 years of diplomatic relations. The India-Uzbek relationship has gone from strength to strength following the visits of PM Narendra Modi to Uzbekistan in 2015 and 2016; and the visits of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to India in 2018 and 2019. She mentioned that the lack of any tangible constructive developments in Afghanistan since August last year have been a cause of anxiety for both India and Central Asia. Amb. Kurbanov said that the development of political dialogue and the promotion of mutually beneficial ties with India have become an important priority of foreign policy and foreign economic activity of Uzbekistan. Amb. Prabhat stated that there is a clear direction from the leaders of both sides to develop this relationship further. He added that, from a bilateral perspective, two things are important: economic convergence should increase, and secondly, connectivity, especially the Chabahar initiative, should be taken forward. Amb. Akhatov’sremarks were read by Embassy representative. It was mentioned that the relationship between India and Uzbekistan has reached new heights over the past few years as a result of intensive political dialogue between the leaders of the two countries. This multifaceted partnership was also active during the pandemic. The two sides agreed that the Uzbekistan Development Strategy for 2022-2026 and India’s Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan presented opportunities to further strengthen bilateral ties.
The First Session “Priority directions of the agenda of the bilateral strategic partnership - 'green' development and digitalization” of the Forum was moderated by Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar, President, Institute of Global Studies, and the panelists were: Dr. Bakhtiyor Mustafayev, Deputy Director, International Institute for Central Asia; Amb. Phunchok Stobdan, Senior Fellow, Delhi Policy Group; Mr. Timur Rakhimov, Head, Department of the International Institute for Central Asia; Prof. Ajay Patnaik, Former Dean & Professor School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Mr. Sarvarjon Kamolov, Chief Researcher, Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
In the session, it was suggested that India can play a role in promoting green development in Central Asia. Both countries are committed to the goal of green and sustainable development and the pandemic has reinforced the agenda of climate change. There is a need to focus on areas like solar, wind energy and green technologies. Uzbekistan was invited to join India’s initiative of International Solar Alliance. Bilateral cooperation in IT sector has been growing. An IT park has been established in Uzbekistan with Indian assistance. The Uzbek Government has approved the strategy for Digital Uzbekistan-2030 which presented opportunities for furthering cooperation with India, including for trilateral cooperation with third countries in Central Asia as also Russia.
The Second Session “Prospects for the development of trade and economic relations” was moderated by Dr. Umid Abidhadjaev, Director of the Institute of Forecasting and Macroeconomic Research, Uzbekistan. The panelists included, Amb. Skand Tayal, former Indian Ambassador to Uzbekistan; Dr. Eldor Tulyakov, Director, Development Strategy Center, Uzbekistan; Dr. Nodira Kurbanbayeva, Chief Researcher, Center for Economic Research and Reforms under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan; Mr. Rohit Sharma, Director and Head-Europe and CIS, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry; and Amb. I. Mavlyanov, Ambassador, Professor at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy.
It was noted that trade between the two countries has been growing steadily. Uzbekistan has facilitated the activities of Indian companies. Signing of a Preferential Trade Agreement and Bilateral Investment Treaty would contribute to further enhancing economic ties, including to achieve the trade target of US$1 bn. Smooth banking channels need to be established to facilitate trade. Cooperation between start-up ecosystems was suggested given the vibrant Indian start-up culture. Furthering cooperation in agriculture, horticulture, pharma, animal husbandry sectors and mineral exports from Uzbekistan was suggested. Digital, land and sea connectivity between Central Asia and South Asia needs to be enhanced. There is need to operationalize the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Connectivity is key in furthering practical cooperation in trade and investment. Uzbekistan supports India’s plan to develop Chabahar port and its linking to INSTC and supports developing transport and logistics cooperation between India, Iran and Uzbekistan. There is a need to ensure unimpeded container traffic movement to end destination.
The Third Session on “Building up social ties” was moderated by Amb. Skand Tayal, former Indian Ambassador to Uzbekistan and the panelists were: Mr. Farkhad Tolipov, Director of the non-governmental institution "Caravan of Knowledge"; Prof. Akhlaq Ahmad ‘Ahan’, Professor, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Amb. Abdusamat Khaydarov, Ambassador, Professor at the Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies; Dr. Meena Singh Roy, Head, West & Central Asia Centre, Tillotoma Foundation; Former Head, West Asia Centre, MP-IDSA.
It was noted that there is a very strong foundation, historical goodwill and friendship between the peoples of the two countries. Buddhism, Sufism connect the two regions of South Asia and Central Asia. From the literary perspective, there is the influence of Panchatantra which became popular in the region. The two countries have a large number of manuscripts which could be explored. It was suggested that grants should be given for focused research on Central Asian and South Asian regions. Cooperation between think tanks, universities, civil society and linkages between media, schools, youth are important elements in people to people ties. Pilgrimage, historical and cultural tourism needs to be given an impetus. Further strengthening ties between regions, states and cities such as between Haryana and Ferghana, Gujarat and Andijan, and Samarkand and Agra was suggested.
During the Q&A session, recent developments in Kazakhstan and the situation in Afghanistan were discussed. It was mentioned that terrorism is a threat to peace and stability in the region and the two countries need to further strengthen their cooperation in this regard.