New Delhi, Jan.1 (ANI): With just three weeks to go before Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev undertakes a four-day official visit to India (January 23 to 26), there is a great interest on the issues that will be taken up in meetings between the leaderships of the two countries.
Experts and sources familiar with Indo-Kazakh ties are of the view that the forthcoming talks between President Nazarbayev and the Indian leadership could primarily focus on energy and food security.
It is an established fact that the Indian Government is keen to leverage its status as one of the world's largest consumers of oil to its diplomatic advantage. According to one analysis, the country's energy purchases are now officially being guided by foreign policy objectives. The current UPA Government has set up an institutional mechanism in the form of a Group of Ministers (GOM) under the chairmanship of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to conduct and promote structured energy dialogues with energy-rich countries such as Kazakhstan.
The mechanism is part of the integrated energy policy (IEP) approved by the Union Cabinet, which visualizes India's growth process being hit due to a growing dependence on energy imports that exposes it to external price shocks.
Currently India imports over 70 percent of its petroleum requirements. The IEP envisages exploiting domestic resources to the maximum, but also emphasizes the need to cut international supply risks through several unprecedented strategic diplomatic initiatives. This includes building a strategic stockpile of nuclear fuel to counter the risk of disruption of international fuel supply.
Agriculture employs 50 to 70 per cent of the workforce in India, and therefore, it is natural and imperative for the government of the day to lay stress on maximizing food security as well. In the last year, contribution of agricultural GDP has dropped to16 per cent in India and the percentage of hungry people in the country is 21 per cent.
Notwithstanding the grim statistic mentioned above, the Chairman of the National Commission on Farmers, M S Swaminathan, recently said India's food security status is perhaps the best in the world.
"We have some 60 million tons of wheat and rice in storage. Perhaps no other country in the world has such security," said Swaminathan, one of pioneers of India's Green Revolution of the 1960s.
The question then arises as to how Kazakhstan can play a role in helping India on these two fronts, should that assistance be sought.
One need only look at the initiatives taken on this score by the Kazakh Government in 2008 to assimilate the potential Kazakhstan offers to the world community. At the 17th annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly held in Astana in June, President Nazarbayev laid emphasis on cooperating on international energy and food security as an extension of promoting multilateral ties.
He said then: "Kazakhstan owns surplus energy and food resources and is capable to increase its supply to the world market on the condition of large scale investments and transfer of technologies. We are ready for close cooperation with the world by our resources, your technologies and investments formula."
With Kazakhstan assuming the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010, he said, it would have a growing role to play in energy markets.
"Kazakhstan is an important element of the global energy structure. It ranks among the large exporters of hydrocarbons. And this role of Kazakhstan will grow," President Nazarbayev said then.
As far the world food crisis was concerned, Nazarbayev has called for more cooperation in the agriculture sector, a stand India would appreciate considerably, given that a majority of its population is dependent on agriculture for its survival.
Currently, Kazakhstan is one of the leaders in the production of grain and flour in the world.
That India takes its relationship with Kazakhstan quite seriously can be assessed by the visit of Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari to that country in May last year. During that visit, Ansari is said to have asked Kazakhstan to help India meet its rising energy needs, besides bolstering bilateral trade and economic cooperation.
"We held discussions on means of increasing bilateral trade and expanding the areas of economic cooperation, particularly in the hydrocarbon sector," Ansari said after delegation-level talks with his Kazakh counterpart Kassym Jomart Tokayev in Astana then.
Kazakhstan is among the top ten countries in terms of hydrocarbon energy reserves as also mineral resources, including uranium.
"Greater economic engagement between India and the countries of the Central Asian region is not only mutually beneficial for the countries, but also for the whole region and the world," Ansari said in his address tothe Kazakhstan Senate.
Ansari said then that with the economies of India and Kazakhstan registering impressive growth, there were "wide ranging opportunities" to expand areas of economic cooperation.
During his meeting with President Nazarbayev, it was agreed that there was a need to get into "projects-specific" mode in fields like food, textiles, hydro-carbons, IT and education.
Nazarbayev said then that Kazakhstan is keen on cooperation in the foods sector and saw India as a potential market. He also said that India and China, the two fastest developing countries, will be the drivers in Asia.
The OSCE PA session in June 2008 was the first to be held in Central Asia, underlining the importance of the region, and specifically of Kazakhstan to the bolstering of ties between Europe and Central Asia.
Kazakhstan's efforts to contribute to international cooperation in many fields are being appreciated by the world community, and experts are of the view that India would stand to benefit in the long-term through its association with this country. By Ashok Dixit (ANI)