Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived here on Friday to firm up political ties with Kazakhstan and finalise a long-pending oil exploration contract that will give India a foothold in the Caspian Sea basin.

In talks with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev scheduled for Saturday, Dr. Singh will seek to intensify civil nuclear cooperation which includes the possibility of setting up small-size pressurised heavy water nuclear power plants in the country.

Kazakhstan is also prepared to supply uranium to India for its existing and future civil nuclear power plants and expects in return greater intensity in economic ties, including assistance in its joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO). An agreement to promote nuclear cooperation could be agreed upon at the summit meeting.

An earlier visit by the External Affairs Minister saw discussions on downstream business opportunities, including the setting up of a refinery. The Tatas are interested in setting up a power plant, while BHEL, which is already active in Warazog in Tajikistan, is looking at refurbishing some Kazakh thermal power stations.

India's main focus will be on securing a contract for the Satpayev oil block that is part of its three-phase oil diplomacy in the former Soviet Union. New Delhi had been painstakingly negotiating this agreement for some years, but the turmoil in West Asia and North Africa accelerated the process. India is already in talks for a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, which Indian sources strangely described as more secure than the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. The third phase involves negotiating for a stake in the Russian strategic hydrocarbon reserves in Trebs, Titov and Sakhalin-III.

Early this year, India began renewing efforts to sell nuclear reactors to Kazakhstan; Department of Atomic Energy Chairman Srikumar Banerjee is already here to hold talks on a feasibility study for 220 MWe reactors considered ideal for an electricity grid in a vast country with a scattered population. This would be India's first export of nuclear reactors, provided it manages to convince the Kazakhs to end their total dependency on Russian technology.

India and Kazakhstan have signed an agreement on cooperation in agriculture. This means exploring the possibility of Indian farmers taking over Kazakh farmland on lease. However, a controversy over leasing of land to the Chinese just before Mr. Nazarbayev's election had led Astana to halt this move.

Kazakhstan has traditionally supported India, whether it was at the Nuclear Suppliers' Group, or standing by India after the Mumbai terror attacks. India was the first non-Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) destination for Mr. Nazarbayev in the early nineties. After a lukewarm spell of bilateral ties that lasted a decade, India invited Mr. Nazarbayev to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in 2009.

In addition, the Kazakhs have a strong affinity with Indian culture beginning from the mid-1950s, when Raj Kapoor and Nargis visited the Soviet Union. While the elderly are still nostalgic about the duo and can effortlessly belt out songs from their movies, notably Awara and Shree 420, the young are hooked on to Neha Dhupia and Aishwarya Rai.

For the light-footed, Mithun Chakraborty's gyrations in the mid-80 hit Disco Dancer are still worthy of emulation. And, it is not uncommon to find several Indiras in every age group, thanks to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, taking Indira Gandhi during his half-day visit to the famous Silk Route city of Almaty.

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