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Uzbekistan, India moving swiftly to partner on Chabahar

Uzbekistan is interested in the Chabahar port that India is developing in Iran

India and Uzbekistan are swiftly moving to strengthen their partnership to develop connectivity in Central Asia via the Chabahar port.

Last week, the Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov, had visited New Delhi and met External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, to discuss various aspects of bilateral cooperation.

Kamilov invited Jaishankar to attend an international conference on regional connectivity in Tashkent in July this year. This was preceded by the India-Uzbekistan Virtual Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in December last year.

The two high-level meetings are significant in view of the change in the administration in the US. Unlike the Donald Trump administration which followed a strong pro-Israel line, alienating Iran, the recently elected government of Joe Biden in the US is keen on re-engaging with Tehran. It is likely that Biden may revive the US-Iran nuclear deal which had been signed under the Barack Obama administration but was revoked by his successor Trump.

A land-locked country, Uzbekistan is interested in the Chabahar port that India is developing in Iran. Soon after Biden was elected in the US presidential elections, Uzbekistan, India and Iran held their first trilateral meeting for the joint use of the port.

Home to almost half of Central Asian population, Uzbekistan is a fast growing economy which has picked up pace under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev's economic reforms. This has created huge demand for investments. Because of the lack of connectivity to sea, the oil and gas-rich Central Asia remains largely dependent on China's market.

The coronavirus pandemic related shutdown brought in a realisation across the world that over dependence on China for essential and manufactured goods was fraught with grave dangers. As a result, President Mirziyoyev has been keen on exporting to diverse markets, including India, via the Chabahar port.

For India, the historically hostile Pakistan, has been a stumbling block to access the oil and gas resources through land route in Central Asia. Amid this blockade, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which runs through Central Asia, poses greater economic competition.

To overcome the two-pronged challenge, New Delhi has invested $500 million in the Chabahar port, which connects India with Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. India's budgetary allocation to Chabahar doubled in 2020-21 from the previous year.

In the meantime, Uzbekistan has built a 75-km railway line between Mazar-i-Shareef and Hairatan town on the Uzbek-Afghan border. Tehran has also built the first railway link between Afghanistan and Iran. India and Uzbekistan under the 2011 Ashgabat Agreement are to build a transit and transport corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Given the significance of the partnership with Tashkent on Chabahar, New Delhi confirmed a $448 million Line of Credit for the development of connectivity related infrastructure, information technology and energy in Uzbekistan. Both the countries have also signed several agreements in various sectors apart from actively cooperating in the regional platforms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the India-Central Asia Dialogue (ICAD).