Protocol set aside as Central Asian hosts warm to Ansari

April 8th, 2008 - 10:54 am ICT by admin  

(Astana Diary)
By Vishnu Makhijani
Astana, April 8 (IANS) Protocol has been repeatedly thrown to the winds during Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari’s ongoing official visit to two oil-rich Central Asian republics, an indication of the chord the former career diplomat has struck with his hosts. Be it in this Kazakhstan capital or last week in Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat, presidents and prime ministers have gone out of their way to make the diplomat-academician-politician feel at home and send out a strong signal that they consider India a close and reliable ally.

It began Saturday when Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov broke protocol and walked the last mile to see off the vice president to his car after their one-on-one meeting and delegation level talks.

This happened moments after the two countries had inked a historic memorandum of understanding (MoU) on engaging in the energy sphere, a breakthrough India had long hoped for as it would give it eventual access to Turkmenistan’s vast oil and gas reserves that hitherto have been the preserve of Russia and China - and of course, the host country.

In normal course, Berdimuhamedov would have bid his guest au revior a few steps outside the room where the document was signed. Instead, he chose to escort Ansari close to 50 metres to his car, animatedly chatting with him - through an interpreter - all the way.

“It’s quite unprecedented. We were expecting the president to say his goodbyes soon after coming out of the ceremony. We were pleasantly surprised to have him walk with the vice president to his car,” an Indian official accompanying the vice president told IANS.

So what was the message Berdimuhamedov was trying to convey? Was it that the signing of the MoU was not merely symbolic and that he was serious on getting India on board in the energy sector?

“Perhaps it was that. But, more importantly, it signalled that the two men were on a common wavelength,” the official, who did not want to be identified, said.

“In fact, Berdimuhamedov’s body language during the two meetings (with Ansari) was a clear signal that they had struck a chord. In fact, during the delegation-level talks, he did not merely make the right gestures. He enthusiastically indicated that he fully agreed with the sentiments being expressed about the potential of India-Turkmenistan relations,” the official explained.

Then, on Monday, protocol was again given the short shrift when Ansari called on Kazakhstan Prime Minister Karim K. Massimov.

It was billed as a “photo opportunity” and was not meant to have lasted more than a minute or two. Instead, it lasted for a little over 10 minutes, with the photographers and TV crews being shooed out so that the two leaders could speak in private.

“It’s one of those things that just happened and we’re mighty glad it did,” the official said.

An indication of what transpired during the meeting came late Monday evening when it was announced that India and Kazakhstan had agreed to bolster their cooperation in the energy sphere - something New Delhi has been eyeing for close to six years.

Protocol had been set aside even before this meeting, but this was pre-planned.

When Ansari’s engagements in Astana were being drawn up, he was scheduled to only co-chair a delegation-level meeting with Kazakh Senate Chairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Then, he was invited to address the Senate.

“This was an extremely touching gesture. It rarely ever happens here,” the official said.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at

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