Continuing with increasing engagements with Central Asia, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will attend the first-ever India-Central Asia Dialogue to be held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on January 12-13, it was announced on Wednesday. According to a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry, Sushma Swaraj will co-chair the Dialogue along with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov. While the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan will participate in the Dialogue as a special invitee for a session dedicated to connectivity issues in the region, the Foreign Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan and the First Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan will represent their respective countries. “Bound together through shared history and cultural linkages, India and the Central Asian states look forward to the Dialogue as an important initiative to enhance their cooperation in wide-ranging spheres including exploring ways to substantially enhance India’s economic involvement in business and development sector of Central Asia,” the statement said. “With the participation of Afghanistan, the participants of the Dialogue will also deliberate on developing viable connectivity options between India and Afghanistan and Central Asia to further facilitate trade and economic activity in the region.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited all the five Central Asian countries in 2015 while Sushma Swaraj visited the region in August last. According to the Ministry statement, the India-Central Asia Dialogue, with the participation of Afghanistan, is expected to strengthen India’s engagement, including political, economic, development partnership and cultural, with all the Central Asian countries and take it to a new level. India is part of the 7,200-km International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), a multimodal network of the ship, rail and road routes for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe. India, Iran, and Afghanistan are also jointly developing the Chabahar port on the southeastern coast of Iran that is going to be a vital link in the INSTC. New Delhi is investing $500 million to develop it and a road link from there to Afghanistan to give access to that country, bypassing Pakistan.