Ansari heading to Uzbekistan in first vice presidential visit

New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) Vice President Hamid Ansari is heading to Uzbekistan, a key Central Asian country, from May 21-24 for talks with President Islam Karimov that are expected to focus on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism cooperation among other issues.

It will be the first visit by an Indian vice president to the land-locked country, with which India shares deep-rooted historical and cultural ties. Ansari will visit Samarkhand, Tashkent and Bukhara during his visit.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Uzbekistan in 2006, President Karimov has come to India five times.

The emergence of Islamist groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Hizb-ul-Tehrir has caused concern in Uzbekistan, which is located at the heart of Central Asia and shares a 200 km border with Afghanistan at its south.

With international forces expected to drawdown in Afghanistan in 2014, Uzbekistan and India share "very common pressing concerns on terrorism", said an informed source.

Ansari and Karimov are expected to discuss Afghanistan, the details of counter-terrorism cooperation and collaboration in economic projects, said the source.

India and Uzbekistan have $200 million bilateral trade with the balance in trade in favour of India, which exports mainly drugs and pharma.

Environment and Forests Minister Jayanthi Natarajan will be accompanying the vice president as well as four MPs.