Astana: National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval on Tuesday underscored the importance of connectivity and economic integration with the Central Asian countries and said that it is a key priority for India.

" Connectivity and economic integration with the Central Asian countries is a key priority for India. However, while promoting connectivity, it is important to ensure that connectivity initiatives are consultative, transparent and participatory," Doval said while participating in the second meeting of the India-Central Asia Secretaries/National Security Advisers of the Security Councils in Kazakhstan.

The meeting hosted by Kazakhstan was attended by the National Security Advisers/Secretaries of the National Security Councils of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Moreover, Turkmenistan was represented by their Embassy in Astana.

Doval further said that they (Central Asian countries) should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.

"They should also adhere to environmental parameters, ensure financial viability and not become debt burdens," he added.

However, he said that the absence of direct land access between Central Asia and India is an anomaly.

"This absence of direct connectivity is the result of a conscious policy of denial by a particular country. This situation is not only self-defeating for this country but it also reduces the collective well-being of the entire region," he added.

Notably, India is a member of both the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Ashgabat Agreement. Doval further invited the Central Asian neighbours to utilize the Chabahar port as well as its Shaheed Bahesti terminal operated by India.

"Invited Central Asian neighbours to utilize the Chabahar port as well as its Shaheed Bahesti terminal operated by an Indian company for maritime trade and solicited support for including Chabahar port within the framework of INSTC," he said.

Moreover, both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan will be joining the INSTC soon. With this, all five Central Asian countries will be a member of the INSTC.

The other key points made by NSA Doval during the meeting revolved around the relations between India and the Central Asian countries including in the political, trade, economy, security and defence fields that have transformed into multifaceted and mutually beneficial relations based on mutual trust, understanding and friendship.

"Central Asia and India face common security challenges and threats. Malign actors from interconnected networks threaten our shared neighbourhood," he said.

Doval further highlighted Digital Public Infrastructure, noting that India is ready to provide technology patented by our Central Bank, also known as United Payment Interface (UPI) free of cost to Central Asian countries for their independent use.

"Facilities setting up of sovereign digital real-time payment systems in accordance with the need and requirement in your countries. Such a system will greatly enhance commercial linkages and benefit people who may have to travel to India for medical treatment," he stated.

He further stressed that it will also help businessmen and Indian students, studying in Central Asian countries.

NSA Doval also highlighted the Rare Earths Cooperation/Strategic Mineral Collaboration and said that India proposed to set up an India-Central Asia Rare Earths Forum for possible partnerships in the rare earth and strategic minerals domain.

"This will also facilitate the participation of Indian private companies in this region for investments and joint economic development," he said.

He further added that such collaborations should be mutually beneficial, transparent and designed to meet long-term requirements.

Further discussing 'terrorism', Doval noted that terrorism in all forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.

"Any act of terrorism, regardless of its motivation or cause, is unjustifiable. Offered fully funded capacity building programmes in a wide range of areas," he said.

Reflecting light on drug trafficking, NSA Doval stated that drug trafficking is a serious menace and is often leveraged by terrorist organisations and organised crime gangs.

"Need to coordinate closely to eradicate this menace. Offered fully funded capacity building programmes in a wide range of areas," he added.

Highlighting that India will work closely with Central Asian countries to help them build defences against cyber threats, he said, "Capacity building and sharing of experience are the cornerstones to strengthen cooperation in this domain. India will work closely with Central Asian countries to help them build defences against cyber threats and create a secure cyber ecosystem."

Moreover, India invited the Heads of the Cyber Security Agencies of all the Central Asian countries to India for a strategic cyber experience.

Shifting the concern to the crisis in Afghanistan, Doval said that the situation in Afghanistan remains a cause of concern for all of us.

"Our common immediate priorities include providing humanitarian assistance, ensuring the formation of a truly inclusive and representative government combating terrorism and drug trafficking and preserving the rights of women, children and their minorities," he said.

Moreover, India is deeply involved in the humanitarian assistance being provided to the Afghan people.

Additionally, in line with India's approach to encouraging sports in Afghanistan, the Afghan Cricket Team is in India to play in the ICC World Cup matches. Adding to this, Amul, an Indian company is the principal sponsor of the Afghanistan national cricket team for the ICC World Cup.

NSA Doval during the meeting also noted that the strongest bond between India and Central Asia is the extensive cultural linkage and people-to-people ties.

He further said that India will organize a seminar in India between leading scholars and and ulemas from India and the Central Asian countries.

"This will also facilitate a deeper understanding of the history and context of Islam and its role in fostering peaceful coexistence and social harmony in today's complicated world," he added.

The meeting was held amid the world is dealing with major challenges. Noting that dialogue is the only answer to settle differences and disputes, India stands for deep meaningful and sustainable engagement with all Central Asian countries," he said.

The NSAs of Central Asian Countries appreciated India's proposals to further strengthen the India-Central Asia linkage including through capacity building.

The participants further highlighted the importance of regular dialogue between the Security Councils of their countries in view of the common challenges of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation in the region.

Moreover, they agreed that the third meeting of the India-Central Asia National Security Advisers/ Secretaries of the Security Councils will be held in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2024.

Going back, the first India-Central Asia Meeting of National Security Advisers/Secretaries of Security Councils was held on December 6, 2022, in New Delhi.

The meetings stressed the agreement reached during the first India-Central Asia Summit (January 27, 2022) on holding regular meetings of Secretaries of the Security Council to discuss issues of regional security.