Kazakhstan-India Ties: Facts and Perspectives

AmbassadorIndia celebrated her Republic Day on Jan. 26 with a traditional parade on the Indian Gate in New Delhi and festivities all over the country. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the Chief Guest of the celebrations this year. Five years ago, President Nursultan Nazarbayev received similar honours extended by the Government of India. And that very fact has had a long resonance ever since, among Indians of all possible backgrounds. On many an occasion, I had a chance to see the proof of it, first-hand.

Is it because Indians are specially attached, as they say, to symbols and rituals? One can’t dwell long on trying to get an exhaustive answer on this question as it seems obvious, at first glance. When you are in this country, sooner or later you find yourself trying to read symbols and signs of the day. The way most Indians do it, though, admires you as it seems quite compatible with modern day realities. Small symbolical ceremonies take place very routinely, without big fuss but certainly with a sense and a touch with your inner self.

The year of 2014 will be fateful for Indian politics as general elections will take place. On Feb. 5, the Indian Parliament will hold its next session where, as expected, the timetable for the polls will be announced. The next government will be decided by the people by electing Members of Parliament to the 16th Lok Sabha. Voting will be held in all 543 parliamentary constituencies of India. 272 seats are needed for a majority.

But the country has already been in the midst of very active and – at times – fierce electoral campaign. While main political parties and leaders may differ in their approaches and positions for the future, one thing a reader in Kazakhstan must be sure about: whichever party or alliance gets the majority in the new parliament, and whoever heads the government as Prime Minister, Indian policies towards Kazakhstan as well as pillars of Indian foreign policy will remain the same.

Kazakhstan’s relations with India have always been warm and friendly. Bilateral relations between Astana and Delhi are based on equal partnership, mutual respect and understanding. Ties between the two countries, maturing from year to year, show great potential, which has everything to once again bring the Kazakhstan-India relations to a new level of cooperation.

Establishing new contacts, regular signing of major projects demonstrate the progressive development of bilateral mutually beneficial cooperation. The recent state-of-the-nation address by President Nazarbayev attracted wide interest in India. The Kazakh leader’s call on developing an “Eternal Land’ concept, in particular, drew special attention as nationhood in the modern and diverse world is always in the focus of the Indian public opinion. That is why Indian delegations to the traditional sessions of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions tend to be the most multifaceted and colourful.

Both countries are multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-cultural societies committed to following secular policies and to countering fundamentalism, religious extremism and terrorism. Views of both countries coincide on all major domestic and international issues. Kazakhstan respects and recognizes India’s global and regional standing. India is one of the key players in political, economic, global and regional affairs. We see the growth of India and we have full appreciation for the opportunities India’s growth presents to the world and to our part of it.

Kazakhstan-Indian diplomatic relations were established just over 20 years ago, although contacts between our nations date back to the days of the Great Silk Road. Signed on Feb. 22, 1992, an agreement establishing the relations gave a start to close friendly relations between the two nations based on the fundamental principles of international cooperation. President Nazarbayev chose India to be the first country outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to visit in February 1992 just after Kazakhstan regained independence. This visit was followed by the visit of Prime Minister of India Narasimha Rao to Kazakhstan in 1993. But prior to it, the then State Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid who is currently the Indian Foreign Minister led one of the first official delegations to our country.

Vice President of India KR Narayanan visited Kazakhstan in September 1996, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev visited India in August 1999. The year of 2002 was highlighted by the exchange of state visits. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee paid his visit to Kazakhstan combining it with participation in the first Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) Summit. President Nazarbayev, in addition to official meetings in New Delhi, visited an unofficial IT capital of India, Bangalore.

More recently, Vice President of India Mohammad Hamid Ansari visited Kazakhstan in April 2008. Fruitful discussions to provide greater economic and commercial content to bilateral relations were held with President Nazarbayev. Several areas including IT, space, agriculture, food processing and others were identified as key to bilateral ties.

President Nazarbayev’s state visit and his participation as the Chief Guest on India’s 60th Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 23-26, 2009 gave a significant impulse to our ties. Discussions were held on providing a big push to bilateral commercial and economic ties as well as in the area of energy cooperation. Significant deals and accords were reached. Our countries agreed on forging strategic partnership. While Kazakhstan was second only to the Russian Federation to attain such a high level of partnership with India, it also became a key element of India’s proclaimed “extended neighborhood” and “Connect Central Asia” policies.

India has been consistently and actively supporting the CICA process initiated by President Nazarbayev in 1992. Its idea of a full-fledged security and cooperation mechanism is very much in concert with aspirations of India for the continent, being a founding member and a driving force of the Non-Aligned movement, SAARC, BRICS, IBSA, among others.

India has an observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and is keen to enhance its contribution to its programmes and activities. India has applied for full membership of SCO and there is a considerable positive interest among members to engage India more actively and substantively as a full member of the organization. Interaction in the UN and other international fora has been close and mutually supportive. Kazakhstan endorsed India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council while India supports our bid for the Security Council non-permanent membership in 2017-2018.

Over the past two decades, Kazakhstan’s foreign policy, designed in broad lines and put in practice through consistent action by President Nazarbayev, has focused on developing and strengthening relations with our key partners, and establishing a safe and friendly environment around us. Taking advantage of our geography, as a country at the heart of Eurasia, we can benefit from trade flows between European and Asian markets, both along the East-West and North-South vectors. The key to making the most of Kazakhstan’s strategic location is to promote integration between West and East and to keep the wider Central Asian region in a clear focus of the international community.

Today, Kazakhstan accounts for more than half of India’s trade with the Central Asian countries. Bilateral trade between India and Kazakhstan increased from $120 million in 2005 to almost half a billion dollars in 2012. During the nine months of 2013, this figure reached $505 million.

One of the biggest impediments to expanding our bilateral trade is the lack of direct connectivity. In this regard, the construction of new routes from North to South will play an important role in trade development and economic cooperation between Kazakhstan and India. This will reduce by half and even more the trucking distance and reduce transportation costs.

Kazakhstan already commissioned its portion of the Beineu-Etrek-Gyzylgaya-Gorgan (Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran) railway route as part of the International North-South Transportation Corridor. In May 2013, President Nazarbayev and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov opened the Bolashak (Kazakhstan) – Serkhetyaka (Turkmenistan) railroad crossing, which is set to become one of the key links in the growing network of railways and road connections restoring the ancient Silk Road in modern conditions. We hope our Iranian and Turkmen partners commission their respective parts of the route as soon as in 2014, and we will be celebrating the completion of the construction of the whole railroad leading to the Gulf ports of Iran.

Currently, India has been invited to be a part of the Eurasia Project to develop oil and gas assets in the north Caspian Sea area. ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) is keen to participate in it. Currently, OVL, in close cooperation with KazMunayGas (KMG), finalizes preparations to start drilling on Satpayev exploration project. The Indian side proposal to establish a joint working group to study the possibility of constructing a pipeline from Shymkent in the south Kazakhstan to the border of India has received positive feedback in Kazakhstan.

Since 2010, Kazakhstan’s KazStroyService (KSS) engineering, procurement and construction company’s has signed up to perform works in Indian infrastructure projects worth more than $600 million. Another Kazakhstan company, Azimut Energy Services, signed a contract with Cairn India Ltd. to work on implementation of a seismic survey in Rajasthan.

Nowadays, several private Indian companies have a significant presence in Kazakhstan such as Punj Lloyd Kazakhstan Ltd., KEC International Ltd., TCS and others. They have been active in the market in the area of construction of oil and gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, IT etc. Indian companies are also keen to bid for infrastructure and construction projects in Kazakhstan in the field of road and railway construction, electric power transmission and distribution, telecommunications, power generation etc. According to the statistics, more than 500 joint ventures are registered in Kazakhstan, of which 190 are fully funded by the Indian capital.

During his official visit to India in March 2013, Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov urged Indian businesses to strengthen business-to-business links with their counterparts in Kazakhstan. Several noted businessmen took initiative in answering the call. I would like to commend Rajan Madhu who cleared all legal formalities for the India-Kazakhstan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI), now registered in New-Delhi. The Chamber is created to protect and promote business interests in both Kazakh and Indian markets, as well as to initiate the establishment of joint ventures in various economic activities. We suggest and hope that the recently instituted National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan, chaired by Timur Kulibayev, will – after completing its institutionalization’s formalities – also devote special interest to creating a twin structure with the India-Kazakhstan CCI.

The prospects of cooperation between Kazakhstan and India are bright. We agree to work very closely and pragmatically to develop connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia. This is the key answer to many challenges which lie before us. We hope that with the strength and potential of India we will be absolutely able to develop those connecting opportunities in multiple forms.

Civil nuclear energy cooperation presents attractive prospects for further diversifying our bilateral economic and commercial contacts. Kazakhstan actively supported India for an unconditional waiver for international commerce in civil nuclear energy in 2009 at the negotiations at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Astana in April 2011 provided the much needed impetus to bilateral relations. One of the most significant achievements of Prime Minister Singh’s visit was the signing of an agreement for cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy. It provides a legal framework for cooperation in fuel supply, nuclear medicine, use of radiation technologies for healthcare including isotopes, reactor safety mechanisms, exchange of scientific and research information, exploration and joint mining of uranium, design, construction and operation of nuclear power plants. The agreement needs to be viewed in the context of India’s growing energy demands. According to India’s 12th Five Year Plan, nuclear power will play a major role in meeting the country’s energy needs. The country needs an additional 100,000 MW of power during the 12th Plan (2012-17).

Prominent diplomat and public figure, Ambassador Ashok Sajjanhar who currently heads the National Foundation for Communal Harmony in his recent article noted that in the area of space, the needs and demands of Kazakhstan and the expertise and capabilities of India are complementary to each other. Manufacturing and launching of satellites as well as utilizing remote sensing technology for improving the living conditions of the people through uses like telemedicine, geo-prospecting and others. can be harnessed to mutual advantage. It is useful to mention that this former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia has been continuously contributing to strengthening ties between Kazakhstan and India.

The Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme is an excellent initiative to enhance knowledge and upgrade skills of Kazakhstan officials and entrepreneurs through training programmes in India. Under this scheme, India offers around 60 scholarships to Kazakh specialists, entrepreneurs and officials, both in the public and private sector for imparting training in areas and sectors including Information Technology, English conversation, Mass Communication, Environment, Educational Planning, Bank Management, Remote Sensing, Textiles, Pharmaceuticals and others. They are provided under the guidance of Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ashok Sharma and conducted in some of the best and most reputed institutions in India. India has indicated its readiness to expand the range, content, size and scope of these programmes depending on Kazakhstan’s requirements.

Tourism is another area which presents immense possibilities. We have daily flights between Almaty and New Delhi and several more connecting the two countries are pending. India has a rich and enterprising middle class estimated in the range of 50 to 300 million people. These people are prosperous and want to travel to other countries and experience different cultures and cuisines.

Kazakhstan presents an excellent location in the neighborhood of the country which, in addition to its unique steppes, lakes and hills, also offers snow clad mountains and ski slopes. And, of course, the challenge of attracting as many visitors to EXPO 2017 by definition cannot exclude potential Indian participants and tourists from the equation.

Today, the tourism industry in Kazakhstan is entering a new phase of its development. The simplification of visa procedures, the build-up of the hospitality industry, and many other issues are on the agenda. A bilateral intergovernmental agreement on simplifying the issuance of visas for some categories of citizens is under the consideration by relevant authorities of two countries. It is worth saying that Kazakhstan is included to the very exclusive list of the selected countries whose citizens will be able to get a visa at the airport upon arrival. We hope this decision will come into force in the near future.

Another initiative that made our countries closer was organized by India-Central Asia Foundation. This research organization, based in Delhi, decided to find out, first-hand, forces transforming this region in the 21st century by undertaking a road trip through three countries of Central Asia. A three-week Silk Road expedition started in Astana and was blessed by Kazakh officials. Members of the expedition had an opportunity to enjoy the beauties of our country and our hospitable and warm people.

It is futile to try to cover every feature, or aspect of multi-faceted and diverse bilateral ties between Kazakhstan and India. Since the embassy of Kazakhstan opened its doors in New Delhi in 1993, it has tried to contribute to the progress of our relations, within the scope and modalities of its mandate. One of the main concerns is to provide for the continuity and regularity of functioning of the institutes and mechanisms of mutual interaction. Right now, we are preparing for the next regular annual meeting of the Inter-Governmental Commission, presided over, respectively, by Minister of Oil and Gas Uzakbai Karabalin and Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Veerappa Moily, to take place in Astana. Similarly, a bilateral Special Working Group on Trade and Commerce will soon gather in New Delhi. We look forward to hosting in the Atakent exhibition centre in Almaty a huge Indian Fair at the end of March. The Kazakh “Saltanat” State Dance Ensemble will soon participate to the annual Surajkund Mela Arts Festival in India. Also, in Astana, annual political consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers are due to take place. And in every matter we have to and do cooperate in good spirit with our Indian colleagues, both in New Delhi and Astana.

The Indian embassy was first set up in Almaty in 1992, and now it is in Astana. Every time visiting my native city, I admire the pace of its development with new eye-catching, state-of-the-art buildings and residential areas mushrooming across. Embassies add their own flavour to the city’s landscape. Keeping within the diplomatic protocol, I wish that one day I will see a beautiful building of an Indian embassy adding something that might remind us of Taj Mahal and the eternal magics of India in the heart of Eurasia.

I would like to convey to our Indian friends and colleagues my best wishes on the occasion of the Republic Day. I firmly believe the existing strategic cooperation between our countries will progress further for the benefit of both of our peoples.

The author is the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to India.