New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday highlighted the importance that India attaches to its long-standing relations with the Central Asian countries as part of its "extended neighbourhood".
The prime minister said this when the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan jointly called on him. The foreign ministers of the five Central Asian countries were in India to attend the third India-Central Asia Dialogue that was hosted by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Sunday.
Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval were present in the meeting between Modi and the visiting foreign ministers.
"The Prime Minister emphasised the importance that India attaches to its long-standing relations with Central Asian countries, which are part of its 'extended neighbourhood'," an official statement said.
It said Modi conveyed his felicitations to the ministers on the 30th anniversary of their independence this year. "He recalled his memorable visits to all Central Asian countries in 2015 and subsequently to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyz Republic," it said.
"The Prime Minister underlined the importance of maintaining cultural and people-to-people contacts between India and Central Asia, given the popularity of Indian films, music, yoga, etc. In the region," the statement said.
He also underscored the potential of enhanced economic cooperation between India and Central Asia, and the role of connectivity in that regard.
"The India-Central Asia Dialogue has given impetus to the excellent bilateral relations between India and Central Asian countries," the statement added. In the dialogue on Sunday, India and the Central Asian countries discussed a plethora of issues, including the situation in Afghanistan.
The foreign ministers called for immediate humanitarian aid to Afghan people, renewed demand for a "truly inclusive" government in Kabul and asserted that Afghan territory must not be used for sheltering, training, planning or financing terrorist activities.
In the last few years, India has been focusing on expanding overall cooperation with the energy-rich Central Asian countries, considering them to be part of its extended neighbourhood.
The upswing in India's engagement with the region followed Prime Minister Modi's whirlwind tour of the five countries in July 2015 that resulted in the expansion of two-way ties in a range of areas. The recent developments in Afghanistan reinforced the importance of the Central Asian countries with three of them -- Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- sharing borders with the war-torn nation.
The national security advisors of all the five Central Asian countries attended an India-hosted regional dialogue on Afghanistan on November 10. The NSAs of Russia and Iran also participated in it. The second meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue was organised by India in October last year in digital format.