Trucking With Tajikistan

Updated: Nov 15 2003, 05:30am hrs
In keeping with the Indian governments focus on economic diplomacy, Prime Minister Vajpayees meeting with Tajik leaders during his visit to Dushanbe is expected to focus on renewing and establishing business ties. Apart from bilateral agreements on cooperation in areas such as tourism, science and technology and telecommunications, automobiles, textiles and mining sectors in that country have also been identified as major investment targets. In fact, many of Indias premier auto and telecom companies are part of the delegation already there for the Made in India exposition. However, while increased trade and investment is an important aspect of the PMs visit, the strategic-military dimensions must also be taken into account. Especially, in the light of the reinvigorated military and strategic interest displayed by some regional and extra-regional actors, including the setting up of military bases by the US and Russia in neighbouring Kyrgyztan.

India has for some time now perceived the Central Asian region as a whole as its strategic neighbourhood. However, its proximity to Tajikistan, which, in turn, has common borders with China and Afghanistan as well as Kyrgyztan and Uzbekistan, and the crucial role that country played as a Northern Alliance base during the Afghan war, has seen New Delhi establishing special relations with Dushanbe. India had even set up a hospital at Farkohar near the Afghan border, which catered to injured Alliance fighters, and sometime in February this year, Indian defence personnel had visited that country for joint military exercises, followed by a India-Tajik defence pact in April. Now with the refurbishing of the Ayni air base, ostensibly to support its energy security interests in the region, Tajikistan will be the only Central Asian country which will have Indian forces permanently stationed there, despite Islamabads stated concerns regarding its encirclement by its eastern neighbour. While Indias interest in establishing a military presence in the region are obvious, Dushanbe too has reasons to welcome such an alliance. With reports of the re-grouping of Taliban/Al Qaeda forces, and given the US preoccupation with Iraq, there is every chance of a renewal of conflict in Afghanistan which, in turn, could lead to the possible fragmentation of that country. In such an eventuality, Dushanbe could once again become a major player in the Afghan theatre. For once, India has moved swiftly to safeguard its strategic interests in the region.