Last year seen significant expansion and diversification in our bilateral relations – Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ashok Sajjanhar


Rizvana Sadykova

Last year seen significant expansion and diversification in our bilateral relations - Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Ashok SajjanharEvery year 26th January is celebrated as the Republic Day of India. Republic day is one of the three National Days of India, the other two being 2nd October which is the Birth Day of the Father of our Nation Mahatma Gandhi and 15th August which is the Independence Day of India. Over these years India has come a long way in overcoming various obstacles and hurdles to rejoice in the triumph, glory and the pride of being an independent nation tells our guest – H E Mr Ashok Sajjanhar, Extraordianary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Republic of India to Kazakhstan..

One year ago, President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev made his official visit to India.  How do you appreciate the outcome of it?  How would you characterize the current situation of political and economic relations between Kazakhstan and India?  What documents signed since are the key ones for the development of our future bilateral relations?

President Nazarbayev paid a highly successful and path-breaking visit to India from 23-26 January 2009 when he also participated as the Chief Guest in India’s 60th Republic Day Celebrations.  The choice of President Nazarbayev as the Chief Guest at this important event is a strong testimony to the warmth, affection and respect that India has for President Nazarbayev personally as well as for the people of Kazakhstan. A Joint Declaration was issued during the visit to upgrade the bilateral relationship to the level of Strategic Partnership.

A breakthrough was made in bilateral relations when Agreement was signed between ONGC Mittal Energy Limited (OMEL) and KMG, the National Oil Company of Kazakhstan in respect of the off-shore Caspian Sea block of Satpayev.  It is expected that Contract for exploration and production in this highly promising block will be signed soon.

A significant achievement of the visit was the signing of an MOU between the National Company KazAtomProm and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited for cooperation between the two sides, inter-alia, on supply of Uranium to India..An MOU was signed between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Kazakh National Space Agency to explore possibilities of expanding cooperation in the area of Space.

Several areas were identified for providing an impetus to bilateral commercial and economic engagement. President Nazarbayev invited Indian companies to set up joint ventures to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs in Kazakhstan because Kazakhstan annually imports drugs and medicines worth more than US$ 800 million from other countries. He stated that in addition to the population of Kazakhstan, these products could also be supplied to neighbouring countries in Central Asia as well as in Southern Republics of Russia.

India offered to set up a gas-based fertilizer plant and establish an Entrepreneurship Development Centre in Kazakhstan since India has considerable expertise in these areas. Feasibility studies on these projects are expected to be undertaken in the near future.

On the political side, President Nazarbayev strongly condemned the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and reiterated his full support to India for combating international terrorism.  President Nazarbayev expressed his appreciation for the active cooperation and support by India to Kazakhstan’s initiative of Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) which is a multilateral forum promoting peace and stability in Asia.  President Nazarbayev reiterated the support of Kazakhstan for India’s candidature for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). India on the other hand conveyed its support to membership of Kazakhstan to the ASEAN Regional Forum as and when the expansion of membership is considered by the Member States.

It was also decided to undertake several new projects and initiatives in the field of culture like conducting a joint study of the common historical heritage and organizing Days of India in Kazakhstan and Days of Kazakhstan in India in the near future.

The last one year has seen a significant expansion, progress and diversification in our bilateral relations.  Around 40 governmental, business, cultural and humanitarian delegations have visited Kazakhstan from India.  All these delegations have helped both sides to establish contacts and identify new opportunities for promoting collaboration.

Some of the major events over this period include the organisation of the India Expo in Almaty in May 2009 in which more than 70 large, medium and small Indian enterprises participated actively.  This is the first exhibition of this size, range and diversity which has been organised in any Central Asian country.  Several major private and public sector companies including Punj Lloyd, ONGC, GAIL, IOC, IFFCO, Power Grid Corporation, NTPC, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, BEML, Atlas Industries, etc. took part in this event.  A Fashion Show and a cultural programme and a Gala Dinner were organised on the inaugural day of the Expo.

The Embassy, in addition to several other cultural events, organised two major Gala Concerts in Almaty and Astana in November 2009.  Also in collaboration with the R B Suleimenov Institute of Oriental Studies and Kazakhstan Institute of Strategic Studies we organised an International Conference on India-Central Asia Relations in Almaty in November 2009.

I am also happy to say that significant progress has taken place on several of the Agreements signed between India and Kazakhstan during President Nazarbayev’s visit.  The Inter-Governmental Agreement on Civil Nuclear Cooperation is ready and should be signed in the very near future.  The contract for the Satpayev Oil Block should also be concluded and signed over the coming months.

I am also happy to inform your readers that India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had a very fruitful, productive and cordial meeting with President Nazarbayev in June 2009 on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg.  It was decided to establish a Roadmap to implement projects in certain identified promising areas on a fast track basis.  Foreign Ministers of both the countries were entrusted with the responsibility of implementing this task. India’s External Affairs Minister is expected to visit Kazakhstan shortly to give a further fillip to our bilateral engagement.  Prior to this meeting, the two leaders also spoke on telephone in April, 2009 and extensively discussed ways to provide an impetus to bilateral ties.

I would also like to inform your readers that I had a very useful and fruitful interaction with President Nazarbayev in December, 2009.  I was deeply impressed by his knowledge, understanding as well as support of India and Kazakhstan-India relations.

Kazakhstan is rich in mineral reserves.  India is rich in technology and skilled manpower. India has not been as severely affected by the international economic crisis as most other countries.  Our banking system is strong with foreign exchange reserves of around US$300 billion.  The Indian economy is driven mainly by domestic demand and enjoys a high rate of savings of around 37%.  India recorded a GDP growth of 6.7% in 2008-09.  Our rate of GDP growth in the second quarter of the current financial year was 7.9%.

On January 26th, your people will celebrate your national holiday – Republic Day. Tell us please, what this great day means to you and your compatriots?

Every year 26th January is celebrated as the Republic Day of India. Republic day is one of the three National Days of India, the other two being 2nd October which is the Birth Day of the Father of our Nation Mahatma Gandhi and 15th August which is the Independence Day of India.

26th January is celebrated as the Republic Day because it was on 26th January, 1950 that the Republic of India was formed and the Constitution of India came into force. Over these years India has come a long way in overcoming various obstacles and hurdles to rejoice in the triumph, glory and the pride of being an independent nation. The Republic Day reminds us of the fulfilment of the pledge that was made on the midnight of Independence as a “tryst with destiny”.

This day also marks the recognition that Indians thrive in a sovereign, secular, and democratic land that stands for the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, the golden words that form the essence of the Preamble of our Constitution. To mark the occasion, a grand celebration is held in New Delhi, the national capital. The celebrations begin with spectacular presentations projecting India’s military prowess. The President of India unfurls the National Flag, followed by the National Anthem. The different regiments of Army, Navy and Air Force march in-synchrony from the President’s Palace (Rashtrapati Bhavan), along the main road Rajpath and reach the India Gate saluting the President of India, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces.

The real spirit behind such a grand celebration is not only to celebrate India’s secularism and democracy but also to make every Indian feel proud of our rich culture, languages, dialects, traditions, customs and religions that makes India a uniquely multi-cultural country.

You have been working in Astana.  It is a young capital of Kazakhstan which is considered as the country making rapid strides in this region.  What is your impression of the new capital, which has recently hosted the 3rd Congress of Leaders of the World and Traditional Religions and now is chairing the OSCE Presidency?

I have visited many countries and cities on postings or on business or for holidays.  All of them have created a distinct and strong impact on me.  I can, however, say that both Kazakhstan and Astana are unique and special in many ways.  Both Kazakhstan and Astana are situated at the crossroads between Asia and Europe.  They have imbibed and assimilated all the virtues and positive features of both these continents.  Like in Asia, the people in Kazakhstan are kind, generous, hospitable, warm and welcoming.  Family values and inter-personal relations are extremely important.  Hard work and dedication are considered to be important qualities and skills that everyone needs to acquire and develop.  In addition, like in Europe and the West, there is emphasis on innovation, technology, creativity, infrastructure and efficiency.

Astana is a testimony to the vision of President Nazarbayev as also to the hard work and dedication of the people of Kazakhstan.  It is a result of ingenuity, visionary leadership and farsightedness.  It is truly a marvel as a modern city which has come up within a short span of 12 years with all facilities and contemporary conveniences.  Every year new buildings are added to the skyline.  In the last few months we have seen the Concert Hall “Kazakhstan” and several shopping malls like Asia Park and Keruen come up and will see the inauguration of several new impressive buildings like the Nursultan International University and the Palace of Art and Culture during 2010.  These are in addition to the Ak Orda, Parliament Buildings, Ministries, Supreme Court, Bayterek, Pyramid and Palace of Independence which already adorn the landscape of this beautiful city.  All this construction and development is testimony to the energy, enthusiasm and determination of the leadership to make Astana one of the most beautiful and vibrant capitals in the region.

The choice of Kazakhstan to Chair the OSCE in 2010 is a well-deserved recognition of its leadership and has undoubtedly strengthened Kazakhstan’s claim to primacy in the region.  Yet another laudable initiative is the convening of the three Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions to promote peace and inter-faith and inter-religious harmony amongst the people of the region and the world.   As a result of organising these Congresses, Astana has become imbued with a spirit of spiritualism, peace and harmony while marching on the road to prosperity and modernity.  Kazakhstan today represents a country and people steeped in history, civilisation and tradition but marching forward with confidence, optimism and determination to secure its rightful place in the international community.

On behalf of our young readers who have just started their career, I would like you, a career diplomat, to tell us about your professional and family life.

I started my career as a diplomat about 32 years ago.  Over this period, I have served in several different Indian missions including Moscow (both in Soviet as well as Russian times), Washington DC, Geneva (in WTO), Brussels (accredited to Belgium as well as EU), Bangkok, Tehran, Dhaka as well as at the Headquarters of Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.  I can say with deep satisfaction that it has been a most fascinating, interesting and exciting career.  I have not for one moment regretted the fact that I joined the diplomatic service.  The range of tasks and responsibilities that one is entrusted with and required to deal with is extremely varied, demanding and challenging.  A diplomatic career gives an individual the unique opportunity to serve one’s country and promote its interests while strengthening cooperation and collaboration with other countries.  One also gets the opportunity to travel to different countries and enrich oneself by coming in contact with different civilisations, cultures, peoples, customs and traditions.

As far as my family is concerned, I have a wife and two children.  My wife Madhu is an economist and has taught at Delhi University as well as at several other universities where we have been posted.  She is also an accomplished painter and singer.  In Kazakhstan, she takes active part in the proceedings and activities of the International Women’s Club while at the same time fulfilling all the myriad responsibilities as the wife of the Indian Ambassador.  My son Gaurav did his graduation in Economics from Yale University.  My daughter Anuradha is doing English Literature at the University of York in UK. I am proud and privileged to have such a talented, understanding, affectionate and loving family.