Increasing connectivity, trade top on Modi agenda in Central Asia  (20:42) 

New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) Increasing connectivity to the resource-rich but landlocked Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would be very much part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit from July 6-13, besides boosting trade, which is at a paltry $1.6 billion.

The International North South Transport Corridor, which is set to connect Mumbai with St. Petersburg in Russia and would greatly help to boost trade, would be part of the discussions between Modi and the Central Asian leaders, said Navtej Sarna, secretary (west) in the ministry of external affairs, at a briefing here on Friday.

Modi’s visit, the first in recent times by an Indian prime minister to all five countries in one go, would also see discussions on “commonalities of concern” regarding the threat from extremist groups and forging of counter-terrorism linkages, he said.

The discussions on terrorism come amid concerns over the rising influence of the Islamic State among the youth in the five countries.

India has joint working groups on counter-terrorism with the countries, which are to provide inputs, the top official said.

The terrorist violence in neighbouring Afghanistan, with which three of the countries, especially Tajikistan, share borders, post the drawdown of the US-led international forces, is also of concern.

Energy cooperation would be high on the agenda of Modi, especially the $10 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project that is likely to take off in December, said Sarna.

TAPI is expected to bring Turkmenistan natural gas from its giant Dauletabad and Galkynysh gas fields to Pakistan and India.

“The TAPI is a major project; it will certainly be discussed and we will explore how to move forward very quickly,” said Sarna.

He said Modi’s visit would seek to give a push forward to the North-South Transport Corridor, and to also link it up with Chabahar port in Iran, which India is upgrading. Other transit corridors would also be explored, he said.

Sarna said there was a “huge groundswell of goodwill” for India among the five countries, which are part of the Old Silk Route with which India has age old cultural linkages.

India has been cooperating in the fields of capacity building, in the field of health, entrepreneurial training with the nations.

The region is resource-rich, with Turkmenistan having the fourth largest gas reserves in the world and Kazakhstan being a major oil producer and the largest producer of uranium.

“There is great potential to increase trade, but it is hampered by lack of surface connectivity,” he said.


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