India's Afghan concerns to dominate Manmohan-Karimov talks

A week after he returns from Kabul, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov to discuss two issues of concern that occupied the centre stage during his talks with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai – security and economic opportunities, mainly in gas.

Mr. Karimov will arrive here for a three-day visit beginning May 17 and he and Dr. Singh will discuss opportunities in Uzbekistan's Karakalpakistan region, a territory that has not been explored for gas reserves, according to highly placed sources.

Uzbekistan natural gas reserves are said to be around 66.2 trillion cubic feet. In addition, there are 52 natural gas fields.

The two leaders will also exchange notes on the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), now chaired by Uzbekistan and which India is keen on joining to promote transportation and energy links with Central Asia, Russia and China, besides contributing to an improvement of overall security in the region. Pakistan and Mongolia are the other countries that could join the SCO along with India.

The two sides will also discuss terrorism and coordinate their positions on Afghanistan as both countries concur on the Indian formulation of good Taliban - bad Taliban. The so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has been operating mainly from Pakistan's tribal areas and carrying out attacks in Afghanistan besides taking on the Pakistan army.

India believes that the arc of militant Islamism begins from the Ferghana Valley (divided among three Central Asian nations) that gave IMU leaders such as Juman Namangani (killed in the 2001 air strikes) and then Tahir Yuldashev (killed last year), who once took on the Pakistani army and paramilitary in an encounter that killed 140 troopers. In this respect, India is keen on joining the SCO's Regional Anti Terrorism Structure based in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent.

Uzbekistan also shares its border with Afghanistan, which is home to ethnic Uzbeks with their most well known leader being Rashid Dostum, a former Defence Minister in Kabul and allied with the Karzai regime.

The world community was perturbed over the recent lynching of foreign aid workers in the Uzbek-dominated Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, which they felt could mark the return of the Taliban. During their heydays, the Taliban had massacred ethnic Uzbeks in Mazar and even murdered 11 Iranians, mainly diplomats, till Gen. Dostum lured them into an ambush.

But oil remains the “factor of interest” for foreign companies, and Uzbekistan has so far looked at Russia, China and Europe as potential markets.

India will join the list after discussions between Dr. Singh and Mr. Karimov, the founder-President of Uzbekistan. In addition, both sides will also hold talks on cooperation in the shale gas sector, a sector in which Indian hydrocarbon companies are deeply interested.

Evacuation of gas could take place via the transport corridor being planned by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Qatar and Oman.

India recently got a foothold in Central Asia with the signing of an exploration agreement with Kazakhstan in the Caspian Sea basin.

It is also scouting for opportunities in the Russian fareast and Siberia.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 10:35:56 AM |

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