India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi started his eight-day tour to five Central Asian countries on Monday with a visit to Uzbekistan, where he was given a ceremonial welcome.
Modi will also visit Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, becoming the first Indian prime minister to visit five central Asian nations in one trip. He will also attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits in Russia.
In Tashkent, India and Uzbekistan signed agreements on cooperation over tourism and culture among other issues during Modi's first visit.
"I share President Karimov's desire to raise the level of our economic engagement. I conveyed to him that there is a strong interest in Indian business to invest in Uzbekistan. There is immense potential in a broad range of areas in Uzbekistan. I have urged him to make the process and the policies for Indian investments here smoother. The president responded positively to my suggestion," said Modi in a joint statement with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
The two countries also agreed to strengthen cooperation in agriculture, information technology and energy, as well as counter terrorism, defence, trade, economy and cyber security.
Modi will reportedly renew a contract with Kazakhstan to receive uranium for India's nuclear power reactors during his next stop on Tuesday. Kazakhstan has provided 5,000 metric tonnes of uranium to India since two countries established a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in January 2009. The contract between two countries ended in December 2014.
Kazakhstan, which is home to 15 percent of the world's uranium reserves, is one of India’s biggest uranium suppliers. India also has an agreement to procure uranium from Uzbekistan, and hopes to buy uranium from Australia and Canada for its power reactors, which can not be used at full capacity due to a lack of fuel.
Aside from uranium, in Turkmenistan Modi will also discuss a long-delayed gas pipeline project involving war-torn Afghanistan and India’s rival neighbour Pakistan.
India “will have to explore how we can move this project forward very quickly,” Indian official Navtej Sarna told reporters before Modi's visit.
Infrastructure projects which would connect Central Asia to India, providing more direct and cheaper routes for trade, are another topic on Modi's agenda.