Samarkand is set to host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit later this week, with Indian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Manish Prabhat saying “India attaches great importance to the SCO” and the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself Traveling to attend the summit is “a testimony to the fact that India is attaching importance to the SCO.” Samarkand hosts the summit on 15 and 16 September. Speaking exclusively to Siddhant Sibal, Zee Media’s diplomatic correspondent in Tashkent, Ambassador Prabhat talked about close India-Uzbekistan ties along with connectivity, trade and people-to-people ties.
Manish Prabhat said, “Uzbekistan is very supportive of Chabahar initiative and we know it was Uzbekistan’s initiative when we discussed Chabahar Port with them to invite India, Iran, Uzbekistan to have trilateral talks about Chabahar. bring it together.”
Question: What will be the main focus of PM Modi’s visit to Uzbekistan in terms of attending the SCO summit and how important is this summit for India?
a: As you know India is one of the newest members of SCO, but in this short span of time, India has contributed very constructively to the agenda of SCO, we are talking about many issues – economic cooperation, covid related diplomacy , how to face common challenges, terrorism etc. But the importance given to this SCO summit which is taking place in Samarkand is what will be the agenda and what will the leaders talk about themselves. Of course, that is their prerogative and what is going to happen will have to wait for the outcome of the summit. India attaches great importance to SCO and as you know India is also the upcoming President of SCO, so obviously the summit is very important for us and PM Modi himself coming for the summit on 15th and 16th of September. There is proof. The fact is that India is giving importance to SCO.
Question: Importance for SCO but also important for Uzbekistan because this is not the first time PM Modi is visiting Uzbekistan so how important is this bilateral relationship between the two countries?
a: India and Uzbekistan have their historical relations going back many centuries, more than 2000 years ago, but certainly in modern times, our relationship has really flourished, know that both Uzbekistan and India are strategic partners and you know that Within this framework of the strategic partnership, we seek to expand and strengthen our ties in various fields – political consultation, economy, trade and investment, defence, security, culture, education, all very important. And if you remember that PM Narendra Modi visited all the five Central Asian countries in the year 2015, it was a sign in itself that India is giving a big push to this relationship and its relations with Central Asia. Giving high priority. Since then, this relationship has really flourished, you know. The fact that we had established the Foreign Ministerial Dialogue in Samarkand, first in January 2019, the India-Central Asia Dialogue and then the India-Central Asia Summit, which took place in January this year, shows that India and the Central Asian countries How close are you? Taking action together.
Q: Once the focus area between relations has been connectivity to sustain, Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country and very keen to utilize connectivity projects including Chabahar, so how was the focus on connectivity between the two countries Is?
a: Connectivity is certainly a big challenge for land-locked Central Asia and of course, since there is no direct connectivity or surface connectivity between India and Central Asia, which is very active these days, India emerged as a solution. Is. Chabahar port and as you know a part of Chabahar port is operated by an Indian company and India has actually told all our Central Asian partners that Chabahar port can be the key and focus which is actually India and Central Asia. establish contact between Asia. And of course, it makes sense because the crux is that if all the infrastructure is developed it would really cut down on time and other kinds of costs, it would be economical and also Central Asia, the country from the outside world. Would love to contact. So, all the countries have agreed that we should work together for connectivity and in fact, Uzbekistan very much supports the Chabahar initiative and we know it was Uzbekistan’s initiative when we discussed Chabahar Port with them That they brought India, Iran, Uzbekistan together. Sitting together to have tripartite talks about Chabahar. Thus, this initiative will go ahead and this dialogue will expand. Similarly, India is a member of the International North-South Transport Corridor and we have also requested Uzbekistan to become a member of INSTC, Uzbeks are very positive about it. Therefore, we hope that the connectivity initiative will develop for the mutual benefit of India and the Central Asian countries in the coming future.
Question: So, my last question to you is trade, trade relationship, how can it be taken forward and profit trade will lead to people to people relationship between the two countries, India and Uzbekistan. Can you talk about it?
a: People-to-people ties between India and Central Asia and India and Uzbekistan have always been strong. It is goodwill on the basis of which more business can take place. As you know Indian pharmaceutical exports have traditionally been strong enough to send CIS to this part of the world, of course, there is room for much more. During the COVID 19 pandemic, pharma exports from India also increased. But we need to identify new items of trade between India and Central Asia. Similarly, Uzbekistan is a big exporter of fruits and vegetables, and you know that in the agriculture sector also India and Uzbekistan have identified agricultural products that can be exported and imported. Uzbekistan is also a great country rich in mineral resources. So, we identify the minerals that can come to India. the possibilities are endless. We need to develop trade links, superficial contacts, we can discuss how to set up a trade promotion mechanism. And we already have mechanisms like intergovernmental commission meetings and other kinds of joint working groups. So, there are efforts in that direction, and I think we have set a target for our two countries to reach a trade turnover of about $1 billion in bilateral trade every year. We are not there yet but work is going on in this direction. The strength of business contacts and investments etc. will attract people you know, we are more connected to each other.
Question:But if you can throw some light on people-to-people relations, India looks at Central Asia and especially Uzbekistan as part of its extended neighborhood and we know that there are many monuments between the two countries. There are similarities.
A: Of course, it has a rich past about it, a lot has happened in history. In Contemporary Relations, see India’s image in Central Asia and Uzbekistan. India is a big economy, it has a huge population, it has managed things very well with its youth, we have built a huge IT ecosystem, and start-ups are doing very well. India is a role model for digitizing various services in the country and learning how to do business in IT and communication services. And so, Uzbekistan and Central Asian countries would really like to learn more from India. You are aware that today Uzbekistan has invited Indian universities to open campuses in Uzbekistan. There are already 3 Indian universities functioning in Uzbekistan and students attending their classes. There is going to be more university-to-university collaboration.
The Indian Cultural Center, which is in Uzbekistan, and the Embassy of India have opened 13 Indian Studies Centers in Uzbekistan universities, so 13 universities are already linked to Indian Studies Centers. Similarly our Lal Bahadur Shastri Center for Indian Culture is doing really good work in the area of cultural outreach. Yoga is really becoming very popular in Uzbekistan. Two trained Indian Yoga teachers from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations have been sent to work in Uzbekistan. This year International Yoga Day was celebrated on a large scale in many cities of Uzbekistan. So, you know, the canvas of cultural cooperation is really expanding. As I said the people of Uzbekistan really love Indian movies. The Tashkent International Film Festival has been restarted. Indian stars are coming and Indian films are being shot here. So, a lot is happening. Also, India is also a great destination for medical tourism, and we see a lot of Uzbek medical patients. They come to Indian doctors and hospitals for the quality care that we can provide and the affordability of that. So, you know that in these directions, there is a lot of potential in services and both India and Uzbekistan are working to realize that potential.
Question: If I am right then India is also helping in IT capacity building of Uzbekistan, we have some projects, India has strongly supported. I remember visiting ministers inaugurating various IT parks here.
Manish Prabhat: You will be glad to know that the first IT Park in Uzbekistan was inaugurated for the first time in 2019 with the help of technical guidance from an Indian expert who was sent from Software Technology Park in India. Since then he has gone resident specialist and you know he has developed more IT parks in Uzbekistan. We have very close cooperation in the field of IT, we are training Uzbek candidates in the field of IT. Similarly, we also operate an Entrepreneurship Development Center in Uzbekistan which has been opened by the Ministry of External Affairs, and we have a Resident Director and Entrepreneurship Development Institute of Ahmedabad providing technical consultancy to develop entrepreneurship. So, you can see that our outreach is not only on IT but also entrepreneurship how do you combine the two and how do you engage with the youth of Uzbekistan, you know how India has done a lot in the field of start-ups. have done something. SCO framework and bilaterally as well. Therefore, we have come up with a comprehensive plan on how to engage with the youth of Uzbekistan, train them in new types of skills and enhance the ties between India and Uzbekistan.