Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked country in the world, is one of the unit of former Soviet Union and shares border with five countries namely Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The link between the two countries dates back to 2500 years, evident from flow of Buddhism from Indiato Central Asia and Sufi ideas from central Asia to India.
India now considers the Central Asian countries as part of its ‘extended and strategic neighbourhood’.
Areas of Cooperation
India was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Kazakhstan. Diplomatic relations were established in February 1992.
India was the first country outside Commonwealth Independent States (CIS) region visited by President Nazarbayev after independence of Kazakhstan.
Various High level delegations which visited Kazakhstan in past include: the first PM of India Pandit Jawahar Lai Nehru, Dr. Radhakrishnan in 1956 as Vice President, Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee (2002) and Dr. Manmohan Singh (2011). Vice-Presidents of India Shri K.R. Narayanan and Shri Hamid Ansari visited Kazakhstan in 1996 and 2008 respectively. In July 2015, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited Kazakhstan.
The Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) established in 1993 has been the main institutional mechanism in developing bilateral trade, economic, scientific, technological, industrial and cultural cooperation.
India and Kazakhstan actively cooperate under the aegis of Multilateral Fora including CICA, SCO and the UN organizations.
Kazakhstan is India’s largest trade and investment partner in Central Asia. It is also the richest among the countries in the region providing immense economic opportunities.
Major products exported to Kazakhstan are pharmaceuticals and medical products, tea, machinery & equipment and raw tobacco. Major products imported by India are oil, uranium, asbestos and titanium. Kazakhstan is a major market for Indian tea.
The two countries also signed a fresh contract for supply of natural uranium during the visit of Prime Minister of India to Kazakhstan in July 2015. Kazakhstan is the largest producer of Uranium.
In the hydrocarbon sector, ONGC Videsh Ltd. from Indian side and KazMunayGas (the national petroleum company of the Republic of Kazakhstan) from the Kazakhstan side have signed an agreement on purchase of 25% stake in the Satpayev oil block in the Caspian sea.
Total bilateral trade amounted to USD 1.2 bn between the two countries.
Treaty and Agreements
India and Kazakhstan have an agreement on Visa free entry for Diplomatic and Official Passport holders.
An Extradition Treaty was signed during the visit of President Nazarbayev in January 2009.
India and Kazakhstan in 2015 inked five key agreements including a defence pact to enhance military cooperation and a contract for supply of uranium.
India and Kazakhstan have inked a Strategic Partnership treaty in 2009, and a Defence and Military Technical cooperation 2015.
Ashgabat Agreement: India has acceded to the Ashgabat Agreement, an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
The Ashgabat agreement is a multimodal transport agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Oman for creating an international transport and transit corridor facilitating transportation of goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
To strengthen the Indo-Kazakhstan relations, troops of India and Kazakhstan army had a joint military exercise ‘Prabal Dostyk-17’ with the primary aim to enhance interoperability while undertaking Counter Terrorism & Counter Insurgency Operations in rural & semi-urban environment under the umbrella of United Nations.
According to the Ministry of Defence, on April 9, 2021, the two ministers met in New Delhi and the focus of the talks was on the bilateral defence cooperation, capacity building, training and military exercises.
And both agreed to explore the possibility of defence industrial collaboration.
Indian companies have been in talks with Kazakhstan defence industries for co-production and co-development in defence production.
A joint military exercise between India and Kazakhstan on counterinsurgency operations in mountainous terrains called KAZIND took place in 2019.
Both countries are in discussion on the possibility of developing a space communication system (satellite) KazSat-2R.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Space Agency of Kazakhstan are in discussions to develop a satellite jointly and a possible launch through the agency later on Kazakhstan is host to the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome.
India’s presence in Kazakhstan will help the country to get alternative market which would reduce its fear of overreaching influence of china.
The heightened India-Kazakhstan relationship allows India to bypass Pakistan and the highly unstable Afghanistan to reach a resource-rich Astana, complementing India’s developing economy.
By shoring up bilateral confidence and marketing itself as a more respectful alternative to China, India could work to secure greater support from Kazakhstan and weaken the support for China’s OBOR initiative.
India’s growing economic influence in Kazakhstan can help India’s effort to denounce Pakistan’s support for terror organisations. Also, as the two sides share borders with the common terror-prone nations, Kazakhstan would be naturally inclined to partner with India on such matters due to the concern both nations have with religious extremism and terrorism.
The potential for expanded military cooperation between Kazakhstan and India is yet another area of cooperation. Firstly, it will reduce Kazakhstan’s over reliance on Russian military equipment and support while providing India an international customer for its military-industry complex. Secondly, it will reduce the increasing pressure from Russia and China on Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is one of the largest producers of uranium ore and India has developed nuclear reactors indigenously. Both countries can collaborate successfully to mutual advantage and benefit in this field.
Challenges in Relations
India lags behind China and Russia in terms of influence in Kazakhstan.
Cross border terrorism and instability around the region of both the countries due to neighbouring states like Pakistan which support the terrorist groups is a major challenge which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
There is a huge information gap between the two countries which keeps them from realizing the full potential of their relationship.
Several areas present excellent opportunities for enhancing bilateral cooperation. In addition to Information Technology, Pharmaceuticals and Textiles, areas like Higher Education, Space, Small and Medium Business, Power generation, Food Processing and Agriculture also present rich potential for deepening the engagement.
Large Indian Companies also need to bid for infrastructure and construction projects in Kazakhstan in the field of road and railway construction, electric power transmission and distribution, telecommunications, power generation.
Civil nuclear energy cooperation presents attractive prospects for further diversifying our bilateral economic and commercial contacts.
In the area of space, the needs and demands of Kazakhstan and the expertise and capabilities of India are complementary to each other. The manufacture and launch of satellites as well as utilization of remote sensing technology for improving the living conditions of the people through uses like telemedicine, geo-prospecting, etc., can be harnessed to mutual advantage.
Tourism is another area which presents immense possibilities.
A bilateral Cultural Agreement and Cultural Exchange Programme would go a long way in strengthening and diversifying the academic and strategic contacts.
The current political, strategic and economic scenario, both regionally and internationally, presents immense potential for India and Kazakhstan to qualitatively and quantitatively enhance their engagement to bring it to a significantly higher level.