A joint communique issued on Tuesday after the first meeting of ‘India-Central Asia National Security Advisors/Secretaries of Security Council’ stated the connectivity initiates should “respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” and called for collective action against cross-border terrorism which is seen as an oblique acknowledgment of China and Pakistan’s moves inimical to New Delhi’s interests.

The NSAs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan attended the meeting hosted by India’s NSA Ajit Doval here. While Turkmenistan was represented by its Ambassador to India. The meeting which, as per the joint statement, largely focussed on a common response to fight terrorism, also reiterated that greater connectivity could be a force multiplier for enhancing trade and commerce and for ensuring closer interactions between India and Central Asian countries.

“They agreed that connectivity initiatives should be based on the principles of transparency, broad participation, local priorities, financial sustainability and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” the joint communique remarked, seen as a hint to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Parallelly, NSAs and Security Councils emphasised the Chabahar Port’s ‘importance’ and discussed further development of this transport corridor given that it played a crucial role during the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. “India and Central Asian member countries of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), as well as the Ashgabat Agreement on International Transport and Transit Corridor, called upon other Central Asian countries to consider joining these initiatives,” the statement stressed.

The joint communique stated that a collective and coordinated response to terrorism was essential as the officials agreed that the expansion of terrorist propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising efforts have serious security consequences for the region.

“The misuse of new and emerging technologies, arms and drugs trafficking, using terrorist proxies for cross-border terrorism, abuse of cyber space to spread disinformation and unmanned aerial systems present new challenges in counterterrorism efforts and call for collective action,” it said. The mentioning of cross-border terrorism in the statement was interpreted as a hint to Pakistan’s support to terror groups targeting India.

The leaders also referred to the significance of UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021), which insists that terrorist organisations, including those listed in UNSC Resolution 1267, should refrain from giving asylum or allowing to exploit Afghanistan’s territory.

In his inaugural address, Ajit Doval said New Delhi accords “highest priority” to Central Asia which is the country’s “extended neighbourhood”. He drew the attention of the attending leaders for giving greater priority to countering terror funding which the NSA described was the ‘lifeblood’ of terrorism.

Doval told the gathering that Afghanistan is an important issue “concerning all of us”, especially as the security establishment is worried over reports that Pakistan-based terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba have shifted base there.