India moved a step closer in its quest for energy from Central Asia with the signing of pacts to prospect for oil and gas in Uzbekistan.
India has already bagged a share in the Caspian Sea basin portion of Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest country, and inked a gas pipeline deal with the region's third major repository of hydrocarbons, Turkmenistan.
Following closed door and delegation level talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov, the two sides signed 34 pacts. Many of them involving the private sector on the economic side, especially in IT & telecom, pharma, textiles, leather and chemicals flowed from inter-governmental agreements signed earlier in the day.
The two sides discussed connectivity problems that have stymied better trade ties. With Pakistan unwilling to give transit rights to India and areas of Afghanistan next to it still restive, the two proposed spurs of the Trans-Afghan corridor and the Central Asia –Persian Gulf corridor were examined.
While economics appeared to dominate, the two leaders also exchanged notes on the security situation especially in Af- Pak. Uzbekistan, like India, has old ties with the Afghan Northern Alliance and supports New Delhi's formulation of making a distinction between the good and the bad Taliban.
Tashkent clarified that it had not held talks with the Quetta Shura (bad Taliban in India's lexis) but only with some former field commanders who had no link with this outfit of Taliban leaders.
In Afghanistan, both countries have joined hands in supplying electricity to Kabul – India erected the transmission network and Uzbekistan supplies the power. Tashkent is also constructing a railway line in Afghanistan, its first, that could eventually help it overcome its landlocked limitations.
Dr. Singh and Mr. Karimov condemned terrorism in “all its forms” but stopped short of demanding an end to sanctuaries to terrorists. Uzbekistan had emasculated the dreaded Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) through military action and supported a similar course in neighbouring Tajikistan whose quarter of population is of Uzbek origin. Post-2001, IMU found sanctuary in the Af-Pak region and caused several deadly attacks on security forces of both countries till the killing of its leader Tahir Yuldashev last year.
Significantly, India welcomed the entry into force of the Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia and “was prepared to extend the necessary security assurances.” So far such assurances have been offered by recognised nuclear weapon States. Analysts consider it significant that India made the offer and also that a nuclear weapon-free zone accepted it.
Explaining the quest for hydrocarbons, an official said one of the advantages of Central Asia was that despite having the third highest gas reserves in the world after the Persian Gulf countries and Russia, many parts have not been explored. One such is Uzbekistan's Karakal-Pakistan which is estimated to contain 70 billion cubic meters of gas reserves.
Uzbekistan also offered shale gas technology to India for prospecting in Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat and some coastal areas.
The two sides touched on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) of which Uzbekistan is a member and India an observer. Dr. Singh informed about India's readiness to join SCO for maintaining its energy security as also give a fillip to cooperation in transportation, agriculture and education. The SCO has always been very positive about India's contribution in Afghanistan.