India reaches out to Tajikistan

India reaches out to Tajikistan

Pratibha Patil seeks closer ties

President Pratibha Patil and her Tajik counterpart Emomali Rahmon shake hands at the Arr Palace of Nations (Kasri Millat) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Monday. PTIIt is the first ever visit by an Indian president to the Central Asian region, though then prime minister A B Vajpayee had visited Dushanbe in 2003.

As Tajikistan shares a long border with the volatile Afghanistan and Dushanbe is geographically closer to Delhi than many other destinations within India, trans-border terrorism and smuggling of drugs have emerged as major concerns not only for India but also for the rest of the world.

Patil said: “Our region is today beset by the menace of terrorism. Extremism and fundamentalism are posing a serious threat to the peace and security in our region. The propagation of intolerance and hatred and the resultant terrorism, is the greatest threat to the world peace and security in the post Cold War era.”Pointing to the terror attack in Mumbai last year as one more manifestation of terrorism in the region, she said it was imperative that all governments of the region take urgent, proactive measures to cooperate and eliminate terrorism in all its forms.

Apart from extending considerable developmental and technical aid to Tajikistan, India has sought to establish a military outpost at Ayni airbase, only 15 km from the Tajik capital. Around 150 Indian military personnel are stationed at Ayni, which includes an IAF detachment and support staff for Mi-17 helicopters.

India has reportedly spent about Rs 100 crore to extend and relay the runway at the Ayni airbase, apart from constructing three aircraft handovers and an air control tower. Though the Indian presence was said to be “temporary”, for taking up reconstruction work, Defence Minister A K Antony during his visit to Dushanbe next month is expected take up the question of making a permanent base, “for India’s as well as Tajikistan’s own security.”

In fact, the land-locked Tajikistan, which has remained poor after being wrecked by civil wars for over a decade since its separation from Soviet Union in 1991 and having a few natural resources, has suddenly become the cynosure of all major powers.

Russia, which guarantees its security with border forces, is of course a close associate, but so is China which is investing heavily in the country. In a surprise move, which has not endeared the Russians, President Rahmon has also allowed some NATO forces to “train and watch” within the country.

President Patil also stressed India’s desire to expand trade with Tajikistan which currently stands at a paltry $25 million. Considering that Tajikistan has a potential for extracting about 80,000 MW of hydro-electric power, India has interest to extract and transmit power through land route.

Right now, India is executing Varzob power project at a cost of $17 million, but China and Russia have already taken giant steps in extracting hydro-electric power.