New Delhi: India and Uzbekistan highlighted their mutual history by cementing a partnership between the cities of Agra and Samarkand as they discussed ways to scale up bilateral ties to meet the challenges of the current era.

The two countries initialled 17 agreements on Monday in areas such as defence, national security, agriculture, science, pharmaceuticals and technology, as well as the boosting of people-to-people ties

The pacts were signed after talks in New Delhi between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who is on a two-day visit to India.

While shaping ties for the modern era was high on the cards, a reaffirmation of historical linkages too was given prominence with the cities of Samarkand and Agra being named as sister cities. Babur, seen as the founder of the Mughal empire in India, is believed to have come to India from the Fergana valley in Uzbekistan. Legend has it that Babur established Agra as the capital of the Mughal empire in India. He is seen as a descendent of Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and also of Turkic conqueror Timur or Tamerlane. Samarkand, on the other hand, was a prominent city on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean.

According to India’s foreign ministry website, Indian merchants based in the Uzbek cities of Samarkand and Bukhara were an integral part of the local economy. In recent times, Bollywood movies garnered a major following in Uzbekistan.

On Monday, Modi said he had “very comprehensive discussions" with Mirziyoyev taking a “long-term view to deepen the strategic partnership between the two countries".

The two sides have agreed to scale up bilateral trade from $300 million to $1 billion by 2020.

To access landlocked Central Asia, the two leaders discussed connectivity in the region and agreed to explore options to enhance linkages by road and rail besides air.

“We have agreed to closely cooperate in the sphere of developing a new transport connectivity corridor," Mirziyoyev said, adding that the strategic partnership with India is “one of the most important priorities" of Uzbekistan.

The two countries have also agreed to work closely to expand and strengthen defence ties as well as defence industry cooperation, according to a joint statement. Joint military training exercises in counter-terrorism and cooperation in military education is also on the cards with Uzbekistan announcing that it would set up a defence wing in its embassy in New Delhi, according to the statement.

The two countries noted the importance of a safe and secure regional environment for development and prosperity and agreed to work closely in addressing threats and challenges to national and regional security, the statement said.

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