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From Air Bases To China/Pakistan Factor: Why India Must Defend “Ally” Tajikistan In Its Bitter Regional Conflicts

Story Highlights
  • Military experts say that the Pakistan Air Force is pretty much all along the Line of Control (LoC) with India because it does not expect air attacks from across its western border with Afghanistan.
  • India built a modern runway that is 3200 metres long, air traffic control systems, and modern navigation tools, as well as strong air defence systems.

This was in line with the Communist theory that nationalism was a necessary step on the way to a communist society and with Joseph Stalin’s definition of a nation as “a historically formed, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up shown in a common culture.”

As a result of the delimitation process, there are now seven Central Asian States. There are five Central Asian States and two Trans-Caspian States, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The Delimitation Committee, which was led by Joseph Stalin, said that it had been very practical in deciding where the new Central Asian states’ borders were.

This wasn’t the whole truth, and some of the newly formed republics of California have been accusing each other of serious border violations. The bad delimitation of 1929 has led to a lot of border disputes. A dispute between Uzbeks and Tajiks or between Tajiks and Kyrgyzs is an example.

There was a fight between border guards from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan not too long ago, and some people were hurt. Even though the security chiefs of the two states and other high-level officers have met, it seems like the border is still not back to normal.

India gets along well with all of the Central Asian Republics. They visit each other often and meet at international meetings. But India had to take into account the strategic location of Tajikistan, the former underbelly of the Soviet Union. This is because Afghanistan is a dangerous place with a lot of uncertainty.

Why Is Tajikistan Important For India

The late Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan has become a place of great strategic, economic, and cultural interest to our country, and its importance will only grow over time.

Trans-Badakhshan has always been an important part of Vedic geography, even though it was called by different names back then. Since the Aryans originally lived in Central Asia and then moved to the north, north-west, and south Asian lands, the people who wrote the Rig Veda kept an eye on their new settlements on both sides of the Badakhshan Mountain.

The names of the area in the Vedas are different from what we use today. In general, Aryana, Tukhara, and Sogdiana stand for modern Afghanistan, Trance-Oxiana, and the Samarqand valley, which is also known as Istravashan.

Tukharistan was the name of the mountainous area that stretched from the northern slopes of Badakhshan, along the border with Afghanistan, past the Oxus River, and to the southern border of the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan.

In the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the region is called Turan and is compared to Iran, which gives us a better idea of where it is. Ferdowsi said that the Tajiks lived in the area west of the Oxus River and spoke a language that was a branch of Farsi. This area is now known as Tajikistan.

Trans-Oxiana (Oxus is the Greek name for the Amu/Jayhun river) became known as Tajikistan, and it was officially recognised during the Soviet era when Lenin’s boundary commission, led by Stalin, set the borders of what was then the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan.

Before the Tajik state was made, Afghanistan was a separate country called Khokand. This new country was different because it shared a long border with Afghanistan.

The mountainous border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is nearly 1,300 kilometres long and hard to cross because it is so rough. It’s not easy to keep an eye on the border, especially when both countries have few resources.

People from the Tajik ethnic group make up about 27% of Afghanistan’s population, and most of them live in the north of the country. This makes Tajikistan’s worries understandable.

During the civil war in Tajikistan from 1992 to 1997, which followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the country suffered a lot. There was a lot of trouble on the border with Afghanistan, and thousands of Tajiks moved to the area beyond the Oxus.

The rise of the radical Taliban in Afghanistan gave the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan and other groups in Tajikistan more power. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a Salafi-jihadist militant group that wants to overthrow the Uzbek government and put in place a Sharia-based Islamic government, was already on the rise.

The Dushanbe regime was worried about what would happen in Tajikistan.

India and Tajikistan didn’t have diplomatic relations until 1992. Four years later, India opened its embassy in Dushanbe, and the two countries began to have low-key relations. The fact that there was no direct land or air route between the two capitals made it hard to build up good relations.

Even though there was once a week air service between Dushanbe and New Delhi in the 1980s, it was stopped later. It was brought back in 2019 for flights every two weeks.

Indian Airbases In Tajikistan

After the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban took over with the help of the US and Pakistan, India realised how important Tajikistan was for its security.

Given that Pakistan has always been hostile to our country and that it started a proxy war in Kashmir in 1990, Indian policymakers had to pay attention to how things were going in the Pak-Afghan region.

After a thorough look at the situation in that area, it became clear that most of the people in the Northern Area of Afghanistan are Tajik and have close ties to the Tajiks across the border in Tajikistan.

During his fight against the Taliban, Ahmad Shah Masud, who was also known as the Lion of Panjsheer Valley, went to Dushanbe a lot. There, people liked him a lot, especially the President of Tajikistan, Emamali Rahmon. Ahmad Shah Masud was a very good friend of India, and he had also gone to school in Indiana.

During the 20 years that the Taliban and US-NATO forces were at war in Afghanistan, Pakistan played a very questionable role.

But India found that the Haqqani network, which was funded and helped by Pakistan’s ISI, had taken a strong anti-India stance by attacking the Indian embassy and other assets in Kabul and threatening Indian-origin Hindus and Sikhs in Kabul. India woke up to the dangers that were staring her in the face in Afghanistan.

Because of this, India looked into how important Tajikistan was for its security against the combined bad intentions of Pakistan and the Taliban. Indian diplomats and envoys began going to Dushanbe more often to talk to Tajik officials.

They knew that Russia and Tajikistan had a military pact that said Russia had to help Tajikistan if an enemy came in from any side. India had to start talks with both Moscow and Dushanbe and talk about the security situation as a whole.

After these talks, Dushanbe agreed to let India build an airbase in a place called Ayni, which is about 30 kilometres from Dushanbe. Gissar Military Aerodrome is the name of the Indian Air Force (IAF) base that grew there over time (GMA).

It is in a village called Ayni, which is not far from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. It is run by India and Tajikistan together. It is the first Indian airbase outside of the country’s borders.

In 2002, word got out that India and Russia were working together to build an airbase at Farkhor. Sheersho Deb wrote on June 22, 2021, for the Defence XP of the Indian Defence Network, “In 2003, the Indian government gave a private builder a $10 million bid to fix up the airbase by 2005.

But the builder didn’t finish the job, so the Border Roads Organisation stepped in to finish it. In 2006, it was said that the Indian government was thinking about putting a squadron of Mig 29s at the Farkhor airbase.

India also spent $70 million to completely fix up and update the Ayni Airbase. India built a modern runway that is 3200 metres long, air traffic control systems, and modern navigation tools, as well as strong air defence systems. Analysts think that the IAF and the Russian Air Force both use the Ayni airbase.

Pakistan Concerned

Military experts say that the Pakistan Air Force is pretty much all along the Line of Control (LoC) with India because it does not expect air attacks from across its western border with Afghanistan.

It takes about 900 kilometres to get from Farkhor to Pakistan. So, if there is an emergency, Indian jets can reach Pakistan. Even a small amount of the Indian Air Force in Farkhor makes Pakistan worry about security in a way that it didn’t before.

In the event of a full-scale war with India, Pakistan’s jets at Farkhor could easily reach some cities in the west of the country that the Indian air force would have trouble getting to.

Aside from this, India’s military presence at an air base in Central Asia is sure to cause waves in China’s western defence strategy. In a subtle way, it’s also a message from Moscow to China, which is in line with the fact that the Indian Air Force has a contingent in Farkhor. Even China’s very important CPEC project fits within the goals.

In the past few months and years, senior Indian diplomats, especially the Foreign Minister, have been going to Dushanbe more often. In between, the Tajik President went to India at least six times, most recently from December 14 to 16 of this year.

Today, India’s ties with Tajikistan are much stronger and cover not only security but also a lot of other topics.

Both countries have been working together more and more in more and more areas. In 2020, Tajikistan backed India’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the next term. Tajikistan is one of the countries that have backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the SC.

This was also said in a joint statement from October 2018, when Indian President Ram Nath Kovind was in Dushanbe on business. In March 2013, India helped Tajikistan join the WTO.

India has always backed Tajikistan’s water-related ideas at the United Nations. India was also in favour of Tajikistan joining ECOSOC.

India, Tajikistan Economic Cooperation

The Indian Defense Network wrote on June 22 the following about the economic cooperation between India and Tajikistan, with a focus on India’s role in Tajikistan’s development:

  • In 1995, India gave USD 5 million as a loan so that a pharmaceutical plant could be built (Ajanta Pharma)
  • In 2005, HMT (I) gave USD 0.6 million to build a Fruit Processing Plant in Dushanbe.
  • In 2006, the Information and Technology Centre (Bedil Centre) was opened with the help of a USD 0.6 million grant. The project ran for 6 years and trained almost all of Tajikistan’s first-generation IT experts who work for the government.
  • India built and opened a Modern Engineering Workshop on June 2, 2011.
  • India fixed up and updated the Varzob-1 Hydro Power Station, which was built in 1936, with the help of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC).
  • A project in Tajikistan to set up computer labs in 37 schools is done.
  • India will build the first part of an 8-lane highway from Chortut village to Ayni roundabout in Dushanbe. This is called phase-I.

India’s Humanitarian Assistance To Tajikistan

  • In 2001-02, India gave food aid worth USD 5 million.
  • India gave a grant of USD 2 million to help solve a problem caused by a very harsh winter in January and February 2008. (USD 1 million as cash assistance and USD 1 million in kinds, such as power cables, generators and pump sets)
  • India gave USD 200,000 in cash aid in 2009 to help fix the damage caused by floods in April and May.
  • In May 2010, when flash floods hit the province of Kulyab, India gave USD 200,000 in cash aid.
  • After polio broke out in the southwest of Tajikistan in 2010, India sent 2 million doses of an oral polio vaccine through UNICEF.
  • In 2015, India gave Tajikistan USD 100,000 in humanitarian aid to help the people of GBAO (Pamir) and Rasht valley who had been affected by floods and mudslides.
  • In March 2017, India sent USD 100,000 to Tajikistan to help the country recover from natural disasters.
  • In 2018, India gave 10 ambulances made in Russia to different parts of Tajikistan.

Connectivity, Trade & Economic Relation

  • In December 2019, a Tajik private airline, M/S Simon Air, started flying between Delhi and Dushanbe. This was the first time in almost a year that there was direct air service between the two cities.
  • In February 2020, Simon Air started to fly between Dushanbe and Delhi twice a week.
  • Most of the things India sends to Tajikistan are medicines, pharmaceuticals, cane or beet sugar, tea, handicrafts, and machinery.
  • About 25% of the Tajik market is made up of medicines made in India.
  • But not all medicines come directly from India. Some of them go through Russia on their way to Tajikistan. Tajikistan sends different kinds of ores, slag, and ash, as well as aluminium, organic chemicals, herbal oils, dried fruits, and cotton, to India.

Private Investments and Projects

  • A five-star hotel built in India by M/s CHL Limited
  • Under a project paid for by the ADB, an Indian company called KEC/RPG finished building a 116 km long power transmission line from the Sangtuda-1 Hydropower plant to the Afghan border in October 2010.
  • In 2011, BHEL made a business deal with the Tajik company “Pamir Energy” to give them a 7 MW generator.
  • Under ADB financing, the Indian company M/s Kalpataru won a contract worth about USD 22 million to build electric transmission lines. The project was finished in early 2017.
  • In Tajikistan, there are also other small private projects, businesses, and clinics that offer health care and other services.
  • Tajikistan has potential in hydroelectric power, power transport, mining, the full chain of cotton processing, tourism, and medical tourism to India.

In the end, we find that Tajikistan is becoming an important strategic partner for India in helping to secure and strengthen its northern border.

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