By Dr Shahid Qureshi: –
“The first meeting of the “India-Central Asia-Afghanistan” Dialogue held in Samarkand capital of Uzbekistan. The Foreign Ministers of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of India, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan participated, according to the Press Statement of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.
Official Iranian channel Press TV called me to comment on the Iranian President’s speech in India after signing off the Chabhar Port to Indian control. I was very surprised with this especially when Iranian president mentioned sectarianism but did not mention anything about occupied Kashmir and Indian atrocities. I did mention that: “India is very instrumental in fanning sectarianism in Pakistan and Afghanistan”. For me it was a strange a policy as Pakistan and I told HE Hamid Baeidinejad Ambassador of Iran to United Kingdom at Kazakhstan National Day Reception: “You call Pakistan as brotherly country and Iran has over 700 miles land and sea border but trade is less than $2 billion but Iranian trade with India is over $30 billion per year, how can the two match together’. He smiled and invited me very kindly for coffee.
Addressing the event, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov highlighted that “The Head of our state, Nursultan Nazarbayev, always pays particular attention to strengthening neighborly and allied relations with the countries of the region. And, the geographical, cultural and historical affinity of the countries of Central Asia, the traditionally established production ties, the complementarity of the economies of our countries leave no other alternative but deeper integration between the countries of Central Asia.”
The Kazakh Foreign Minister underscored the importance of the meeting for the rapprochement of Central Asia countries and India, as well as for boosting the economies of the Central Asian countries. The sides were informed of the need to implement joint projects with India in the areas of medicine, pharmaceuticals, new technologies, and finance taking advantage of the opportunities created by the Astana Hub International Technopark of IT-startups and the Astana International Financial Centre.
The idea of creating a consortium with the participation of all Central Asian countries to connect the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran and Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran rail routes and the Chabahar Port for the Central Asia-India freight transportation so that to increase the transit and transport potential of the region was announced there. During the event, the sides discussed issues of economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, as well as the promotion of stabilization and economic development of Afghanistan.
In particular, they considered issues of enhancing mutual trade, expanding direct contacts between business associations, developing the transit-transport and communication potential of Central Asian countries, promoting joint initiatives to create international and regional transport corridors, and attracting Indian investments, innovations and technologies to Central Asian economies, including in the areas of industry, energy, information technology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, etc. As a result of the meeting, a Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of the Dialogue countries was adopted.
The sides underlined the dynamic and fruitful development of friendly relations and mutually advantageous cooperation between India and the countries of Central Asia, reaffirmed the aspirations towards regional cooperation, mutual support, joint settlement of topical issues to ensure security, stability, and sustainable development of the region. A number of expert meetings held since 2012 preceded the proposal to hold the first ministerial meeting of the “India-Central Asia-Afghanistan” Dialogue. The initiative to hold such meetings was launched by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) jointly with the Ministry of External Affairs of India.
According to statement issued by the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February 2018:
During the visit, Dr Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran was accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising Cabinet Ministers, senior officials and business leaders. He was accorded a friendly and cordial ceremonial welcome in the forecourt of RashtrapatiBhawan on 17 February. President, Shri Ram NathKovind hosted an official banquet dinner in honour of the visiting dignitary. Delegation level discussions were held between Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and President Dr Hassan Rouhani. Prime Minister of India also hosted a Lunch in his honour. Hon’ble Vice President and External Affairs Minister of India called on the visiting dignitary. President Rouhani visited Hyderabad on 15-16 February 2018.
Wide-ranging and constructive discussions on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues were held in a cordial atmosphere. In recalling the principles on development of bilateral relations articulated in the ‘New Delhi Declaration’ of 23 January 2003, the two sides expressed satisfaction at the progress made in bilateral ties since Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Iran in May 2016 and reiterated their common resolve to further intensify and strengthen multifaceted bilateral cooperation. The two leaders noted that the mutually beneficial ties between the two countries were based upon the strong foundations of the two millenia old cultural and civilizational connect. They shared the view that strengthened bilateral relations also contribute to regional cooperation, peace, prosperity and stability.
Prime Minister Modi and President Rouhani witnessed the exchange of the following documents and jointly addressed the media:
i. Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income
ii. MoU on Exemption from Visa requirement for holders of Diplomatic Passports
iii. Instrument of Ratification of Extradition Treaty
iv. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine
v. MoU on the establishment of an Expert Group on Trade Remedy Measures to promote cooperation in areas of mutual interest
vi. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Agriculture and Allied Sectors
vii. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine
viii. MoU on Postal Cooperation
ix. Lease Contract for ShahidBeheshti Port-Phase 1 of Chabahar during Interim Period between Port and Maritime Organization (PMO), Iran and India Ports Global Limited (IPGL)
President Rouhani and Prime Minister Modi agreed to further intensify and diversify the existing high-level engagement through frequent and wider range of bilateral exchanges at all levels. In this context, it was decided to convene within this year the meeting of the India-Iran Joint Commission and all its Working Groups, Foreign Office Consultations, dialogue between defence and National Security Council structures of the two countries, Policy Planning dialogue, and to promote Parliamentary exchanges.
The two sides recognized the unique role of Iran and India in promoting multi-modal connectivity within and across the region. The successful inauguration of the Phase-1 of Chabahar Port in early December 2017; the ratification of the Trilateral Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor by all sides; and the successful shipment of wheat assistance from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port have opened a new gateway to and from Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond. Both sides reiterated their commitment for early and full operationalisation of ShahidBeheshti Port at Chabahar. The Iranian side welcomed the investment of Indian side in setting up plants in sectors such as fertilizers, petrochemicals and metallurgy in Chabahar FTZ on terms mutually beneficial to the concerned parties.
In this context, both leaders welcomed the lease contract for ShahidBeheshti port of Chabahar during interim period between port and Maritime Organization (PMO), Iran and India Ports Global Limited (IPGL). They further directed that the Coordination Council should meet within the timelines stipulated in the Trilateral Agreement.
With a view to fully utilize the potential of the Chabahar Port and its connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia, India conveyed its readiness to support the development of Chabahar- Zahedan Rail line. IRCON, India and CDTIC, Iran who are engaged in discussions, were tasked to finalise the technical parameters and financing options for the project in a time bound manner. Both leaders encouraged greater efforts for cooperation in railway sector including supply of steel rails, turnouts and locomotives.
Both sides reiterated their commitment to International North- South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and stressed on the need for inclusion of Chabahar within its framework. It was noted that Iran will hold an early meeting of the INSTC Coordination Meeting in Tehran. India’s accession to TIR Convention and Ashgabat Agreement was welcomed as additional steps at enhancing regional connectivity and linking regional centers of economic growth.
The two Leaders released a joint postage stamp depicting Deendayal Port, Kandla and ShahidBeheshti Terminal, Chabahar that reflected the enhanced prosperity through greater connectivity.
The Iranian side expressed its readiness to enhance enabling environment to attract Indian private/public sector investments, in Chabahar FTZ. In this context, Iran will organise a business promotion event, with participation of countries from the region and beyond, with the objective of showcasing the economic opportunities offered by the Chabahar Port.
In the current situation it seems Pakistan’s opening of CPEC projects and Gawadar Port to Russia and Saudi Arabia is very timely and appropriate.
(Dr Shahid Qureshi is senior analyst with BBC and chief editor of The London Post. He writes on security, terrorism and foreign policy. He also appears as analyst on Al-Jazeera, Press TV, MBC, Kazak TV (Kazakhstan), LBC Radio London. He was also international election observer for Azerbaijan April 2018, Kazakhstan 2015 and 2016 and Pakistan 2002. He has written a famous book “War on Terror and Siege of Pakistan” published in 2009. At Government College Lahore he wrote his MA thesis on ‘Political Thought of Imam Khomeini’ and visited Tehran University. He is PhD in ‘Political Psychology’ and studied Law at a British University. He also speaks at Cambridge University. He is a visiting Professor at Hebe University in China.)