India and Uzbekistan plan to cooperate on connectivity projects in Afghanistan and will participate in a trilateral dialogue with Iran, said the two sides after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during a virtual summit on Friday. Both addressed need to fight terrorism and shared the “same vision” on the future of the Afghanistan peace process, officials said.
“We have similar concerns about extremism, fundamentalism and separatism. We both stand firmly together against terrorism. We also have a similar approach on regional security issues,” Mr. Modi said in his opening statement welcoming President Mirziyoyev to their first virtual summit.
“Our security partnership is becoming a strong pillar of bilateral relations. Last year, the first joint military exercise between our armed forces took place. Our joint efforts are also increasing in the areas of space and atomic energy,” Mr. Modi added.
$448- million Line of Credit
India also confirmed the approval of a $448- million Line of Credit for four developmental projects in Uzbekistan in the areas of “road construction, sewerage treatment and information technology” and specific projects under the Line of Credit were being identified at present, officials told the media.
The two sides signed a Dollar Credit Line Agreement between the Export-Import Bank of India and the Uzbekistan Government and several Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) including in the areas of renewable energy and information technology on the sidelines of the meeting.
“The leaders instructed their officials to fast-track the conclusion of the ongoing Joint Feasibility Study that will pave the way for commencement of negotiations on a Preferential Trade Agreement,” MEA joint secretary Adarsh Swaika said, adding that the two leaders acknowledged that the current bilateral trade level of about US $285 million (2018) was far below the potential.
‘Meeting of minds’
The officials said that Mr. Modi and Mr. Mirziyoyev had a “meeting of minds” on regional issues, particularly on cooperating on development projects in Afghanistan.
“The [leaders] shared the same vision of a united, [sovereign] democratic Islamic republic of Afghanistan, that it should be an Afghan led, owned and controlled peace process. It is also vitally important to preserve the gains made by Afghanistan in the last two decades including for minorities, women and children,” Mr. Swaika said.
On his last two visits to India in 2018 and 2019, the Uzbekistan President had broached the possibility of a joint railway project that would connect the Afghan city of Herat to the border with Afghanistan, and would then further connect to a railway line from Herat to Chabahar port.
When asked, Mr. Swaika said that India would “welcome any initiative which would build connectivity”, but didn’t confirm whether the project proposal had moved forward. President Mirziyoyev also accepted “in principle”, Mr. Modi’s suggestion that Uzbekistan should join the Eurasian International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), that connects Iran to Russia and beyond.
Rail line in Iraq
Meanwhile, Iran has just completed the 220-km railway line from Khaf in Iran’s northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi to Herat, which was inaugurated this month by Afghan President Ghani and Iranian President Rouhani, and Tehran announced in July that it is building the line from Chabahar to Afghanistan on its own, which are likely to be part of discussions when the Uzbekistan-India-Iran trilateral is held.