I thank the Indian Council for World Affairs and the Centre for International Relations Studies (Tashkent) for inviting me to the Opening Session of the 2nd India-Uzbekistan Forum of Think-Tanks. The enthusiastic participation of Think-tanks and scholars from the two countries reflects the vitality of India-Uzbekistan Strategic Partnership. It is not only the two Governments that are taking forward the India-Uzbekistan partnership, the stakeholders have also multiplied and contributing to this process including the private sector, academia, media, cultural personalities and think tanks from both the sides. I see that the Forum has an extensive agenda for today and I look forward to the outcomes of your discussions.
2. India-Uzbekistan relations are rooted in our shared civilizational and cultural linkages. We share a common geography which facilitated continuous exchange of peoples, ideas, goods in both directions for centuries. We consider Uzbekistan as part of India’s “extended neighbourhood”. India was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with Uzbekistan and our vibrant relationship has grown from strength to strength over the last 3 decades.
3. We have all seen the intensity of high level exchanges between India and Uzbekistan during the last five years. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited Uzbekistan in July 2015 and again in June 2016 for the SCO Summit in Tashkent. President of Uzbekistan H.E. Mr. Shavkat Mirziyoyev paid a State Visit to India in October 2018 and he visited India again for the “Vibrant Gujarat” Summit in January 2019. Both the leaders are fully committed to further strengthen the India-Uzbekistan Strategic Partnership. When a physical visit was not possible due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, our leaders held their first Virtual Summit in December last year. The Joint Statement entitled ‘Close Friendship, Strong Partnership’ aptly sums up the status of our relations and where they are headed today.
4. While much can be said of the vast agenda of our cooperation, today, I would like to highlight 4 points which are worth mentioning. First, our close cooperation in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic showed that we are geared to jointly tackle such global challenges. Second, India not only aims to enhance its trade and investment with Uzbekistan, we would like to be among the most reliable development partners of Uzbekistan. Third, India and Uzbekistan are jointly working to promote the Chabahar Port to overcome the challenge of overland connectivity. Finally, both India and Uzbekistan share a similar outlook on Afghanistan and call for a Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process there.
5. India and Uzbekistan have maintained close cooperation during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. India supplied much needed medicines to support Uzbekistan in its fight against Covid-19. We are thankful for Uzbekistan’s assistance in facilitation of the return of stranded nationals of both countries by special “Uzbek Airways” flights. As our Prime Minister declared, India’s vast vaccine production capacity will be available to all humanity. We have facilitated contacts between Indian vaccine manufacturers and the Uzbek authorities to work out the supply and manufacturing of vaccines in Uzbekistan.
6. Trade and economic cooperation has been a special area of attention for both countries as we resolve to increase the volume of bilateral trade to US$ 1 billion. We are about to conclude a Joint Feasibility Study to identify tariff lines for a possible Preferential Trading Agreement. We are also engaged in negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty which will pave the way for greater investments in both countries. Increased bilateral trade and investment would require the private sector of both countries to step forward, since the potential is enormous and the governments are willing to lend all support.
7. Lack of overland connectivity between our two countries has inhibited our trade and economic cooperation in reaching its true potential. To overcome this, India has developed the Chabahar Port in Iran, which has been handling commercial cargo movement between India and Afghanistan and can become a hub for connectivity between India and Central Asia. In this context, we welcome the initiative of the Government of Uzbekistan to host the first trilateral meeting of India, Uzbekistan and Iran in December 2020. Greater usage of the Chabahar Port and Uzbekistan’s membership in the International North-South Transport Corridor will greatly benefit connectivity in the region.
8. In line with India’s increasing development partnership spanning more than 60 countries, Uzbekistan is the first country in Central Asia with which a very active development partnership is being forged. A US$ 1 billion Line of Credit was announced during the 2018 Summit which is now being operationalized. 4 projects have already been identified for implementation. A recent addition to the development partnership has been India’s announcement of grant projects for Central Asian countries within the rubric of the India-Central Asia dialogue. We believe that these projects will aid the overall efforts of the Government of Uzbekistan in its priority national development goals.
9. India and Uzbekistan share the common threat of terrorism and radicalization. We condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations and believe that there can be no justification whatsoever for cross-border terrorism. As immediate neighbours of Afghanistan, our two countries are interested in peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. We appreciate the role of Uzbekistan in aiding the peace process and organizing the important Tashkent conference on Afghanistan in 2018. India has, so far, committed more than US$ 3 bn for developmental projects in Afghanistan, especially building of dams, transmission lines, roads, schools and hospitals. We have called for preserving the gains of the last 19 years in socio-economic and political developments in Afghanistan.
10. In conclusion, I would like to say that India has always been and will always be a friend and reliable partner for Uzbekistan. Our bilateral cooperation has reached a qualitatively higher level and the need is to implement the priorities identified by our leadership. I would like to wish this Forum a great success and look forward to valuable recommendations emerging from your deliberations.