Mukherjee for road link with Central Asia through Pakistan

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Chandigarh, Mar 15 (UNI) Advocating closer cooperation between India and Central Asia, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee called for establishing a direct surface transportation route through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

''Our ongoing composite dialogue with Pakistan has been yielding good results and we are hopeful that a direct road link will be established between India and the Central Asian nations'', he said while delivering his inaugural address at the conference, 'Cooperative Development and Peace in Central Asia' here today.

Noting that absence of a direct surface link was a major handicap in further developing economic and trade ties between India and Central Asia, the minister pointed out that the recent steps taken by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia to increase road and rail connectivity could be linked to further development of the International North South Transport Corridor.

At the same time, air connectivity could be used to overcome this impediment, as several Central Asian capitals are closer to Delhi than Delhi is to certain Indian cities, he added while urging Indian air carriers to come forward and evaluate the feasibility of starting flights from India to Central Asian destinations and back.

The minister pointed out that with Afghanistan's membership of SAARC last year, Central Asia and SAARC were now contiguous neighbours. This provides a further basis for closer regional cooperation, he added with reference to development of regional transportation networks, easing the movement of people and goods and broadening the ambit of developmental projects and activities.

He added that as an Observer, India is awaiting finalisation of guidelines by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to enable more active and meaningful participation in the region including Central Asia. India's bilateral trade with all the Central Asian countries taken together stands at a modest 340 million US dollars, he pointed out.

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