Vice president Ansari leaves for Central Asia

April 4th, 2008 - 5:04 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari embarked on a weeklong official visit to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan Friday to reaffirm India’s long-standing ties with the two oil-rich Central Asian republics. This is the first visit abroad by Ansari, a former career diplomat, after assuming office last year.

A high-level delegation including Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed, members of parliament and senior officials accompanied Ansari.

During the Turkmenistan leg of the visit, Ansari will hold delegation-level talks with the country’s president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who will also host a banquet in the vice president’s honour.

Ansari, who has served as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations and also as envoy to Saudi Arabia and Iran, among others, will also be visiting Mary, Turkmenistan’s fourth-largest city and a large centre for natural gas and cotton industries, the nation’s two major exports.

Ansari’s visit to Turkmenistan is the first by an Indian dignitary at this level in a decade and will give India a sense of the currents of change sweeping the country following elections last year. The country had retreated into isolation for two long decades under former ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, who had declared himself ‘president for life.’

In Kazakhstan, the vice president will meet Prime Minister Karim Massimov and also meet chairman of the Senate, K. Tokayev.

A number of speaking engagements have also been lined up for Ansari, including to the senate and to the Kazakhstan University, which will confer a honorary doctorate on the vice president.

“The address to the senate is a unique honour accorded to the Indian vice president,” external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

Ansari’s visit to the two countries will seek to bolster strong historical and cultural ties between India and Central Asia in the context of the larger strategic challenge of countering terrorism in the region.

India signalled its growing stakes in the region when it participated as an observer at the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that includes Russia, China and the four Central Asian nations for the first time in the history of the regional grouping.

India’s diplomatic thrust in the region got a boost after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Uzbekistan two years ago. India has also set up a military base at Ayni in Tajikistan that underscored the strategic dimension of ties.

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