The Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi, in association with the Center for International Relations Studies (CIRS), Tashkent, organized the Second India-Uzbek Forum of Think Tanks on 23 February 2021. The Forum was held in an online format. Representatives from foreign ministries, embassies, think tanks, and academic institutions attended the Forum. The Forum had the following four working sessions apart from opening and concluding sessions:
The Opening Session was addressed by Mr. Farhod Arziev, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ministry, Uzbekistan; Shri Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, India; Dr. T. C. A. Raghavan, DG, ICWA; Amb. Dilshod Ahatov, Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to India; Amb. Мanish Prabhat, India’s Ambassador to Uzbekistan. The session was hosted by Amb. Daniyor Kurbanov, Acting Director, CIRS, Uzbekistan. The participants agreed that the Virtual Summit held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in December 2020 was a success and noted the high level political commitment to further strengthening the relationship. India-Uzbekistan relationship is rooted in shared civilization and is dynamically developing at all levels. India considers Uzbekistan as part of its extended neighborhood. The two countries have common interests and share common challenges and a dialogue between the think tanks and academic institutions of the two countries acquires significance in this context. Uzbekistan would be the next Chair of the SCO and this offers scope for further bilateral cooperation. India is a reliable partner of Uzbekistan on connectivity and both also support all efforts towards a durable peace in Afghanistan.
Session I: ‘Realization of the Uzbek-Indian Virtual Summit Agreements’ was Chaired by Amb. Daniyar Kurbanov, CIRS, and the Speakers included Mr. Umid Abidhadjaev, Deputy Director, Center for Economic Research and Reforms, Uzbekistan; Professor P. Stobdan, President, Ladakh International Centre, Leh, Ladakh; Mr. Farrukh Khakimov, Head of the Department of the Development Strategy Center, Uzbekistan; and Asstt. Prof. Angira Sen Sarma, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. The session focused on the economic situation in the region and the world and the implications of the change in energy consumption pattern away from oil which is expected to lead to intense geopolitics. As 90 % of SCO trade is only with China, the need to reduce this dependency was highlighted. Uzbekistan’s positive economic growth during the Covid-19 period was noted. As regards bilateral ties, exploring cooperation in agriculture, horticulture, IT and pharma sectors was suggested. A PTA between the two countries could be explored. Uzbek participants expressed interest in looking at India’s reform initiatives like ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. The Participants noted that bilateral defence cooperation has given a new fillip to bilateral ties. Cultural, spiritual, Islamic, religious and Sufi linkages between the two countries also need to be also highlighted.
Session II: ‘Development Prospects of Interconnectedness in Central and South Asia’ was chaired by Asstt. Prof. Ulugbek Hasanov, Chair of International Relations Department, University of World Economy and Diplomacy (UWED), Uzbekistan; and he was joined by Mr. Timur Rakhimov Acting Chief International Institute for Central Asia; Dr. Anita Sengupta, Director, Asia in Global Affairs, Kolkata; Amb. Prof. Ibragim R. Mavlanov, UWED; and Prof. Suba Chandran, Dean, School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS, Bengaluru. It dwelt upon connectivity and cooperation in the region. It was noted that inter-regional cooperation is an important aspect of connectivity. Sustainable cooperation is a must between South Asian and Central Asian regions for establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan. Chabahar is emerging as the fulcrum of connectivity between India and Central Asia. Digital connectivity is also getting traction. It was said that a legal framework, financial mechanism, and single window clearance would give impetus to connectivity. Cooperation in the field of S&T could also be one of the keys to connectivity. It can include innovation, joint research on space, cyber security, and artificial intelligence. COVID-19 has opened a new window for joint projects in field of medical science, and scientific community should be encouraged for joint meetings, projects and research.
Session III: ‘Afghanistan's Involvement into the Regional Economic Cooperation’ was chaired by Amb. Sujan R. Chinoy, DG, MP-IDSA; it included Amb. Prof. A. Khaidarov, Tashkent State University of Oriental Studies; Ambassador Yogendra Kumar from India, Amb. D. Kurbanov of the CIRS; Mr. Pankaj Tripathi, Principal Consultant, Sarojini Damodaran Foundation. The participants discussed the situation in Afghanistan saying said that the country is in a flux and is witnessing change in its political system due to increased violence in several areas. A year has passed since the signing of US-Taliban pact but with the change of administration in the US, withdrawal of US forces remains elusive. Both Afghan Government and Taliban are awaiting renewed US policy towards the country under Biden administration. The common understanding in Central Asian countries is that withdrawal of forces is required for lasting peace in the country. Uzbekistan supports connectivity initiatives with Afghanistan. It is looking towards several connectivity projects to reach the ports in the Indian Ocean. India has been a critical developmental partner for Afghanistan. India’s vision for Afghanistan is shared by Uzbekistan, which sees it as an economic and strategic hub. Afghanistan requires micro-level planning projects which varies from community to community. India and Uzbekistan can be partners to develop and secure the Termez-Herat-Chabahar rail link. Both can work together to develop Termez into an economic hub. Development of food Parks, packaging units as well as development of sericulture can be steps to develop the region.
Session IV: ‘Potential for Cooperation in International Organizations’ was Chaired by Major General (Retd) B. K. Sharma, Director, USI of India; and the presenters were Mr. Alisher Kadirov, Head, Department of the Middle East and South Asia, ISRS, Uzbekistan; Prof. Nirmala Joshi, Director, India-Central Asia Foundation, New Delhi; Zilola Yunusova, Department of Near and Middle East, Africa, CIRS; and Dr. Athar Zafar, RF, ICWA. It was said that India and Uzbekistan share similar world view, same ideas regarding multilateral values and both favour strategic autonomy. Both agree that international organisations need comprehensive reforms reflecting 21st century realities. About SCO, it was said that both should work together to keep it as a non-partisan organisation and not let it become an arena for power-play. SCO should organize a meeting to discuss the pandemic and sharing best practices to fight the disease. Central Asia and South Asia are among the world’s least integrated regions. Regional cooperation is the cornerstone of both India and Uzbekistan’s foreign policy initiatives. Central Asian countries view India as a balancer to the major powers in the organisation, but it can play a greater role. India and Uzbekistan can work together to push multilateral values within the SCO to make it more effective.
Concluding remarks were made by Dr. T. C. A. Raghavan, DG, ICWA; and Amb Daniyor Kurbanov, Acting Director, CIRS. It was stated that there is synergy at the highest political and diplomatic levels between India and Uzbekistan and that the bilateral cooperation has a strong regional element with both countries sharing the vision of an integrated and cooperative regional environment. India and Uzbekistan could be drivers of engagement between Central Asia and South Asia. For Uzbekistan, India is an important partner in its modernization and development. It was noted that it was the responsibility of think tanks of the two countries to deliberate and give ideas for further strengthening the relationship and to take it forward.