India and five Central Asian countries held their first summit on Thursday and decided to set up a joint working group on Afghanistan as Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised that cooperation between India and Central Asia is essential for regional security and is now more important in the context of developments in Afghanistan.
In a significant decision, the leaders agreed to institutionalise the summit mechanism by deciding to hold it every two years, besides holding regular meetings between their foreign, trade, and culture ministers. An India-Central Asia Secretariat in New Delhi would also be set up to support the new mechanism.
After the summit, also attended by the five presidents -- Kazakhstan's Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Uzbekistan's Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan's Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and Sadyr Japarov of Kyrgyz Republic, the leaders came out with 'Delhi Declaration' and agreed that terrorism must be comprehensively countered to achieve a 'world free of terror.'
Asserting that Central Asia is "central to India's vision of an integrated and stable extended neighbourhood", Modi also pitched for an integrated approach for regional connectivity and cooperation for the next 30 years as part of the three main goals of the summit.
The summit comes just two days after China, which is deeply engaged in the region, held its separate meeting with the Central Asian countries.
Asked whether there was discussion on China at the summit, ministry of external affairs secretary (West) Reenat Sandhu said, "India's long-standing and friendly relations with Central Asian countries are based on a strong foundation of deep historical cultural and civilisational links. They stand on their own merit. The focus of the summit was purely on further strengthening India-Central Asia partnership."
She also replied in the negative when asked if Ukraine issue was discussed during the meet.
The two sides also vowed to step up cooperation on connectivity and the Central Asian countries welcomed India's proposal to establish a Joint Working Group on Chabahar Port to address issues of free movements of goods and services between India and Central Asian countries.
"Our concerns and objectives with respect to regional security are the same. We all are concerned about the developments in Afghanistan and in this context cooperation between India and Central Asia has become all the more important for regional stability and security," the prime minister said at the summit that lasted for about one and half hours
At the meeting, the leaders agreed to continue close consultations on Afghanistan and decided to establish a JWG on the country at the senior officials' level, Sandhu said.
During the Summit, the leaders discussed the current situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the security and stability of the region, the joint document said.
They reiterated strong support for a peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan while emphasizing the respect for sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and non-interference in its internal affairs.
The leaders also discussed the current humanitarian situation and decided to continue to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
They reaffirmed the importance of UNSC Resolution 2593 which unequivocally demands that Afghan territory not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist acts and called for concerted action against all terrorist groups, including those sanctioned by the global body, the declaration said.
They noted that there is a broad 'regional consensus' on the issues related to Afghanistan, which includes the formation of a truly representative and inclusive government, combating terrorism and drug trafficking, the central role of the UN, providing immediate humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan and preserving the rights of women, children, and other national ethnic groups and minorities.
Condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, the leaders reiterated that providing support, using terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism, terror financing, arms and drugs trafficking, dissemination of a radical ideology, and abuse of cyberspace to spread disinformation and incite violence, goes against the basic principles of humanity and international relations.
The two sides discussed far-reaching proposals to further cooperation in areas of trade and connectivity, defence and security as also cultural and people-to-people contacts.
The Prime Minister also referred to the robust ties India shares with these countries bilaterally.
On their part, the five presidents hailed PM Modi for hosting the summit and said holding talks in this format on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations will take cooperation to a new level.
The leaders also called for a transparent, effective and non-discriminatory international response to global health challenges, including pandemics while agreeing that early mutual recognition of COVID vaccination certificates will facilitate easier travel of citizens of their countries.
The leaders also stressed the need to make concerted efforts to boost trade and investment in sectors such as medicine, healthcare, education, information technology, business process outsourcing, infrastructure, agriculture and agri-processing, energy, space industry, textiles, leather and footwear industry, gems and jewellery.
Some of the other key takeaways from the summit included a round-table on energy and connectivity; showcasing of Buddhist exhibitions in Central Asian countries and commissioning of an India-Central Asia dictionary of common words, visit of 100 member youth delegation annually from Central Asian countries to India and special courses for Central Asian diplomats.
This was the first engagement of its kind between India and the Central Asian countries at the level of leaders.
Modi had paid a visit to all Central Asian countries in 2015. Subsequently, there have been exchanges at high levels at bilateral and multilateral forums.