India and Kazakhstan: Dimensions of Cooperation
Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of India to the Republic of Kazakhstan, has answered our magazine’s questions.
Mr. Ambassador, how would you characterise the present state of political relations between Kazakhstan and India?
The present state of political relations between Kazakhstan and India is excellent. President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh have met twice during the past two years, once in May 2005 and more recently in July 2006. The meetings at the top level have helped our two countries to coordinate our views on major issues of international relations, and also given us clear guidelines on the way to move forward in our bilateral relations. We believe that our relations will develop substantially in the near future, in keeping with the objectives of the multi-vector foreign policy being followed by both our countries. India supports the initiative for greater cooperation between Asian countries, as proposed by President Nazarbayev when he initiated the CICA process. This is evident from the fact that India was the first country to ratify the agreement establishing the CICA Secretariat that was signed during the Second CICA Summit held in Almaty in June 2006.
India joined the SCO as an observer at the Astana SCO Summit in July 2005. We have expressed our interest in participating in the SCO’s programme of activities, especially in the economic sphere. We look forward to specific SCO projects where we can do so. With regard to membership of the SCO, I understand that this issue has to wait until the SCO adopts the necessary legal documents which will allow observer countries to become members of the SCO.
What are the dynamics of the development of trade and economic relations between our counties?
India’s trade relations with Kazakhstan have been growing substantially. In 2005, our exports to Kazakhstan crossed the $100m mark out of a total two way trade of $120m. This was 23% more than in 2004. We expect this trend to continue. The dynamics of the development of trade and economic relations between our two countries in 2006 has been marked by the successful realisation of the desire of our top political leadership to diversify these relations, especially by working closely together to bring our private sector companies into new areas such as information technology and our joint participation in the development of the “cluster scheme” in Kazakhstan. In both of these specific areas, India’s experience is relevant for Kazakhstan, especially when we consider the employment that can be generated by establishing small and medium enterprises. Today, for example, over 60% of India’s global exports are done by small and medium enterprises, which employ millions of people all across our country.
In what spheres of economy do our countries cooperate most actively?
Currently, the areas of information technology and construction have emerged as our most active sectors of economic cooperation. India has been very happy to promote cooperation with Kazakhstan in this sector, in which India is considered to be a major global power. Since July 2005, major Indian IT companies like 3i-Infotech, Tata Consultancy Services, and NIIT have begun operations in Kazakhstan. During the opening of the Almaty IT Park in September 2006, STPI Bangalore, which manages the Bangalore IT Park, participated actively, and we hope they will have a permanent presence in Almaty as soon as the Almaty IT Park begins substantial commercial activities. Companies from Kazakhstan like the Lancaster Group have taken advantage of the potential of cooperation in the area of education by opening the first IT Education Centre with NIIT of India in Almaty in October 2006.
In the sphere of construction, we are happy that Indian private sector companies have been competitive in the tender process in Kazakhstan. One of these companies, Punj Lloyd, is executing an $80m project to lay pipelines and overhead electrical lines in Atyrau, while another, KEC International, is executing a $62m project to install an electricity transmission line as well as an optical fibre line from Balkhash to Shu in Kazakhstan.
Our country is aiming to develop innovations, IT and new technologies. Could you tell as about India’s experience in developing these spheres?
In India, the growth of the IT and related high technology sectors has been driven by innovations by our business companies, who have benefited from the government’s supportive policy measures. For example, during the WTO negotiations on telecommunications in the mid-1990s, India committed itself to liberalising the telecoms sector in a phased manner by 2004. Companies, both from the public and private sector, took advantage of this clear government policy commitment to make the necessary investments that would make their operations competitive, including linking up with global companies. The liberalisation of our telecoms sector has resulted in the availability of the infrastructure required for IT operations and applications. At the same time, the government also committed itself in the late 1990s to removing customs duties on computers and peripherals in a phased manner, in order to encourage the development of IT hardware industries in India. This policy has also shown concrete results, with Indian companies now manufacturing IT hardware in India, in collaboration with global companies as well as by themselves. The third and most important area where government policies have played a major role has been in the creation of an infrastructure for educating IT professionals. This process in India begins in the schools, and is very competitive, with the best students graduating from our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which are counted among the top educational institutions in the world today. This infrastructure took several decades to build, and today provides the IT sector in India, as well as the world, with a constant supply of highly trained and competitive manpower. In the specific case of technoparks, of course, the government played a major role in acting as a facilitator for infrastructure development and investments, and the record of STPI Bangalore, which last year helped IT companies in Bangalore to export more than $8bn of IT products to global markets, is well known by Kazakhstan.
Could you tell us about the development of relations between our countries in the sphere of education?
We do not have any structured inter-governmental educational exchange programme between India and Kazakhstan. Under our embassy’s sponsorship, we are able to send specialists from Kazakhstan on short period training programmes in India. This programme has been operating since 1992, and so far more than 500 specialists from Kazakhstan have been to India for training. The most popular courses are economics, banking, IT and the study of English as a foreign language. Our cultural centre also sponsors students from Kazakhstan to study in Indian universities and institutes. About 15-20 students go to India every year under this scholarship programme, to study Hindi, dance, as well as subjects like economics, political science etc. There are no Indian students in Kazakhstan who have come under the sponsorship of the governments of India or Kazakhstan, although I think there is scope for our students to study in Kazakhstan – particularly in areas such as seismology, geology, metallurgy, mining, etc.
You have mentioned the Indian Cultural Centre. What are its main achievements in the popularisation of Indian culture in Kazakhstan?
The Indian Cultural Centre in Almaty, which operates under the embassy, is active in organising Indian cultural programmes in Kazakhstan. The cultural centre has regular programmes of Indian classical dances which are included in many official cultural events in Almaty. In addition, the cultural centre has free classes for the citizens of Kazakhstan who want to learn Hindi and Yoga. In 2006-2007, we plan to hold performances of music and dance to mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic relations.
We also have an active programme in the publication of books which were not previously available in the Kazakh language, although many Indian books were available in Russian. During the past two years, for example, we have succeeded in publishing epics of Indian literature in Kazakh, such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. We will have published the text of the Buddhist philosophy, Dhammapada, in Kazakh, as well as selected poems by our national poet, the Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, before the end of 2006. All these books are available in the National Library of Kazakhstan, as well as in the Indian Study Centre which we have opened in the National Academic Library of Kazakhstan in Astana.
We are working together with talented musicians in Almaty to bring out a musical collection of traditional Kazakh and Indian music, a project sponsored by our cultural centre.
Holding photo and painting exhibitions are among our priority activities. We are holding a major photo exhibition on Buddha in Almaty on 19 October 2006, where more than 100 photographs of the places in India connected with Buddha’s life and teachings will be shown. We are holding a similar exhibition in Aktobe later this month.
In India, we recently established the first Indian professional symphony orchestra in Mumbai. This orchestra is a result of the close co-operation between the world famous Marat Bisengaliyev and his West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra from Uralsk and the National Centre for Performing Arts of Mumbai.
What are your priorities as the Ambassador of India in Kazakhstan?
I find that my job as ambassador of India to Kazakhstan is a very exciting job. I used to be the consul general of India in Almaty in 1990-1992, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. Therefore, I can see personally the tremendous changes that have taken place in Almaty during the past fifteen years. I can also appreciate the manner in which Kazakhstan coped with the challenges it faced in 1992, and the clear vision it has of becoming one of the fifty most competitive countries in the world. It is my job to see the ways that India and Kazakhstan can cooperate most efficiently in this context.
Of course, while thinking of the future, I am always reminded of the historical and social connections between the people of Kazakhstan and India, which have existed for more than 2000 years, since the first Saka tribes came from this region to northern India. It is useful for us to put our current cooperation against this larger background, as we can better understand all the things that link us together as people if we keep a historical perspective in mind. Beyond the commercial benefits of economic cooperation, there is the larger interaction between the peoples of our two countries, which makes my job more interesting. The revival of the Silk Road is thus not only relevant for our trade, but also for the exchange of ideas and cultures.
Asoke Kumar Mukerji was born in 1955. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (with Honours) Degree and a Master of Arts Degree from Delhi University. Ambassador Mukerji joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1978. Ambassador Mukerji’s diplomatic assignments include Belgrade (1980-1984), Washington D.C. (1987-1990), Tashkent (1990-1992), Geneva (1995-1998), Dubai (1998-2001) and Moscow (2001-2005).
During his service in MEA in New Delhi he worked in the Department of East Europe (1984-1985), he was the Personal Secretary to Minister of External Affairs of India (1985-1986), he was a director of the Central Asia Division (1992-1993) and headed the Machinery of a State Minister of External Affairs (1993-1995). He was a Consul General of India in five Soviet Republics of Central Asia (1990-1992) and also a Charge D’affaires of India in Tashkent, Dushanbe and Ashgabat in March-December 1992. He represented India in the World Trade Organisation (1995-1998), was a representative of Indian Government in a WTO group on regulating disputes. From December 2001 till January 2005 (until his current assignment), he was the Deputy Head of Mission in the Embassy of India in Moscow. He is currently the Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan.
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