Baku. REPORT.AZ/ The outgoing Ambassador of India to Azerbaijan Vinod Kumar gave an Interview to Report News Agency.
- Mr.Ambassador, how do you evaluate the current level of bilateral cooperation?
- The bilateral ties between India and Azerbaijan are excellent. If we go back in the history, we have friendly relations since the years of Great Silk Road. "Ateshgah" fire-worshipers temple is a living example of our close relationship, but I'd prefer that the level of our interaction be higher, because huge potential is exist between India and Azerbaijan. The direction of our relations is in right way, but we hope that in future the pace of these activities will increase.
- What can you say about turnover between our countries? Which areas of cooperation are the most active and what should be done in order to increase the level of turnover?
- As I mentioned, the potential is enormous but realization is not that much. So, speaking about political relations - yes, we had many ministerial and official meetings in both directions. During the last 2-3 year, I noticed that many visits took place, so many legal documents were signed. In 2012 we were 5-th or 6-th the largest trade partner with Azerbaijan. Our trade went up to 2 billion dollars and we exporting large amounts of raw oil from Azerbaijan. As you know, India is the largest producer of drugs and we are exporting it to Europe, America. We used to export large amounts of drugs here at the early years of independence, but after that it come done. The Ministry of Health had visit to India and examined the situation, hopefully, there will be more interaction in the pharmaceutical field.
- In 2012 Indian company ONGC Videsh acquired stocks in Baku-Tbilisi-Jeyhan pipeline. At the same time there was interest to establish refinery in India. Is there any updates on these particular issues? And do Indian companies plan to expand its presence in Azerbaijan?
- Yes, you are right, our national oil company entered into Azerbaijan oil sector in 2012 and we were very happy and things were going well. And then our national gas company signed an MoU with SOCAR on more cooperation. Azerbaijan is blessed with huge amounts of hydrocarbons and India now is one the highly developing country like Azerbaijan, but we need lot of energy. That is why the cooperation in energy sector is there and national companies of Azerbaijan and India are interested to cooperate in this sphere. We are happy with this cooperation and hope this will increase more.
- How the cooperation between Azerbaijan and India in tourism sphere is developing? How many tourists visited India last year and are there any talks about commencing of direct flights?
- There is a lot of interest to visit India. Everybody wants to visit Taj-Mahal and take photo in front of it. Last year we issued approximately 1000 visas and 600 visas were issued for tourism purpose. So the number is increasing. But yes, the hurdle for developing touristic cooperation is that there is no direct connection. We signed air services agreement and AZAL was supposed to initiate the commence of direct flights. We used to have flights from here to Goa, but because of high cost and being economically not beneficial it was stopped. But now, the things are going in right direction. The prices went down and interest increased, so the large number of tourists going from here. At the same time more people from India coming to Azerbaijan. There is big interest and people are willing to come. Last year big business tourism delegation consisting of 60 people flew to here. But from Indian point of view the vise problem is there. It is not easy to get visa from the embassy of Azerbaijan. Here, if someone come and ask me for visa, I can issue it for 24 hours. But for people, coming from India, it will take long time to get visa. So, once connection and visa liberalization took place, you will see more people coming from India.
At the same time, AZAL is buying several aircraft for long distance flights, so they can start soon, if not, Air India who used to have heavy losses, but now have positive results and profits. So they can start direct flights.
- What can you say about relations in cultural sphere? During soviet period Indian culture was very popular in the whole USSR, but since the restoration of independence it seems that popularity of Indian culture is going down. Does the embassy plan to organize any big cultural events like the event which was organized in Baku in autumn last year to popularize the culture of your country?
- I am happy to see so much interest and love in Indian culture in Azerbaijan. As you know, Raj Kapour visited Baku many year ago. Yes, you are right there was more cultural connections during soviet period because of some activities in both countries. Now we wanted to have some Indian film festivals, but you also need to have these films in Azerbaijani language. We have no expertise in this. We have Russian versions but I think they are not welcomed here. We used to have a lot of serials, movies on Azerbaijani TV and they still telecasted on television. We will definitely work on various activities, bring Indian artists here even for film shootings, But you know, it need logistics and finances. Hopefully, there will be cultural events in Azerbaijan.
- As you know, since the beginning of January we observe tough situation on the contact line between forces of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The same situation we can see in Jammu-Kashmir region. How can two countries help each other to negotiate both conflicts?
- Conflicts anywhere in the world involve two parties and we hope and always try to help for the negotiations. The solution is not the bombs and bullets, but the words leads to the solution. Yes, we understand that Azerbaijan has territorial disputes with neighbor country Armenia and large territories are being controlled by Armenia and OSCE Minsk Group is mediating to help sides. Two presidents also met few times last year and the solution for both the parties is to sit together, discuss and find mutual agreement. India always stood and stands for independence of nations and integration of peoples, including integrity of territories.
The same thing we are doing with Pakistan regarding Kashmir conflict, but unfortunately, as you know, recently elections were held in Kashmir. More than 75% of citizens voted and elected their representatives against threats by terrorists, most of them were infiltrated from Pakistan. The will of people in Jammu-Kashmir is that they want to have peace and their representatives. But such forces like Taliban and extremist people from that region unfortunately putting obstacles in meaningful bilateral agreement. Civilian governments in Pakistan and India want peace with each other, but those extremists, they don't want it. They want to control by gun and bullets but I think that they won't succeed. We hope that the thing will improve and peaceful co-existence will take place. There is a saying: you can change friends, but you cannot change neighbors. It is the reality. We want to have whatever working plan to live in peace, hopefully it will take place. People in Jammu - Kashmir don't want violence and India is not creating this situation. Such elements like Talibans, Al-Qaeda and now ISIS they want to destroy the peace.
- Mr. Ambassador, you are living Azerbaijan in regard with ending of your diplomatic mission. What experience did you get while working here?
- I felt very happy here and I am going to India. And this experience is almost like working with Indian people, but in different country. Friendliness and hospitality which I experienced here will help me in future activity in India. I was very happy to live here and spend my time here. Me and my family were very happy and we will carry the pleasant memories of Baku and this great country.