Tajikistan may hand over Aini airfield to India

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
The Indian Prime Minister has designated a new stage in the foreign policy of New Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tour of the countries of Central Asia and his participation in the BRICS and SCO summits marked a new stage in relations between New Delhi with the countries of the region. India has joined the struggle for political and energy resources in Central Asia, unafraid of competition with Russia and China. Narendra Modi visited the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in that order, where he struck several profitable agreements for his country. To each of the host countries he promised investments and invited them to join the 'North-South' transport corridor, which will provide a competitive and the fastest route from Eurasia to India, as well as integrate the Indian port of Mumbai with the sea ports of Iran in the Persian Gulf.

All this is not surprising. Many countries are paying increased attention to the Central Asian region. The European Union, being in search of alternative sources of supply of energy resources, has initiated projects of oil and gas  supplies and has already secured the support of Turkmenistan. India has also joined the struggle for energy resources. As noted by Modi during his tour, Central Asia, with its energy resources, occupies a strategic location to become a global bridge between the North and the South.

Being in Ashgabat, Narendra Modi discussed the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline with a capacity of 33 billion cubic meters. According to the Indian Prime Minister, New Delhi is in favor of early implementation of the TAPI project, believing that the pipeline will bring stability and prosperity to the region.

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov assured his Indian guest that "negotiations on the TAPI have reached the finish line, and we stand on the eve of a momentous event – the beginning of the construction of the pipeline." Arkadag (which means Patron – so the President of Turkmenistan is called) also considers that "the implementation of the TAPI project will not only bring economic benefits to the countries participating in the project, but will also contribute to the rapprochement of the countries and peoples." The head of state stressed the stabilizing influence that TAPI will have on the situation in Afghanistan. According to the president, the project will provide Afghanistan as a transit country with a billion dollars and will create more than 12,000 jobs.

However, experts doubt the success of the project. In the first place, the pipeline will pass route through Herat and Kandahar. Herat is a region of influence of Iran, and Tehran, with a view to exporting gas to Pakistan and India, was not interested in the implementation of the TAPI project. Kandahar is a stronghold of the Taliban, which is hardly likely to agree. The director of the ICSG Analytical Center, Andrey Kazantsev, said that, unfortunately, this project could not take place because of serious security risks in Afghanistan and on the Turkmen-Afghan border.

The Executive Director of the Political Science Center ‘North-South’, Yulia Yakusheva, draws attention to the fact that "the acquisition of full membership of the SCO creates the conditions for a more active presence of India in Central Asia." "The interest of New Delhi in the region is clear. First of all, the energy resources of the region. It's not just  hydrocarbons. Revealing a large contract to supply India with 5 thousand tons of uranium from Kazakhstan and 500 tons of uranium from Uzbekistan. No less important is the factor of the geo-strategic position in the region. India is very interested in involving the countries of the Central Asia transport corridor "North-South" and the pipeline routes. Infrastructure projects in India as a whole relate to the Chinese economic zone of the Great Silk Road. Traditionally, however, the competitive nature of relations between India and China can create a point of tension in multilateral fora such as the SCO. Not to mention the fact that while it is not known what impact there will be on the domestic climate of the Shanghai organization of the simultaneous presence in it of India and Pakistan," Yakusheva told Vestnik Kavkaza. According to her, Russia, having allied relations with India, is likely to be positive about the prospects of development of joint infrastructure projects and increasing trade and economic relations across the Central Asian region.

However, India in Central Asia is interested not only in the search for new energy sources, but also in new forms of struggle against Islamic terrorism. For more than 10 years, New Delhi has been unsuccessfully trying to get a rental of Tajikistan's Ainia airfield, located near the town of Hissar, 25 km to the west of Dushanbe. Before the collapse of the USSR there was a helicopter plant located with the runway. After the collapse of the USSR the factory was not working. In 2007 by bilateral agreement, India reconstructed Ainia for the subsequent use of the airfield. It was reported that at the Ainia airbase 12 MiG-29 combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force will be placed. Dushanbe has promised to rent Ainia to India, but ultimately failed to do so. The Tajik authorities say this was due to pressure from Moscow.

During the talks with the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon, the Indian Prime Minister not only raised the issue, but also visited the airfield. According to  Ozodi Radio (the Tajik service of Radio ‘Liberty’), on the eve of the visit of the Indian guest roads leading to the airport were repaired, and the flags of Tajikistan and India were hung along the route. The area was put under special protection by the security forces and law enforcement agencies. As the senior Indian military official Prado Vasan Nike told the Indian edition of Mail Today, "for India it is very important to get a military base overseas, particularly in Central Asia. However, an agreement must be reached between Tajikistan and Russia on the Ainia military airfield."

However, Tajikistan, as a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), is not allowed to host a foreign base without the consent of the Alliance. However, there are exceptions to any rule, and experts believe that under the pretext of fighting Islamic extremism the Dushanbe authorities can persuade Moscow to give the green light to the Ainia base being used by the Indian Air Force.

"The reasons that caused the Indian interest in the region are of a strategic nature. India's opposition to Pakistan requires the so-called 'Heartland'. Good relations with the Central Asian countries would enable India to take Pakistan "in a pincer movement." These strategic motives explain the acuity of the confrontation between India and Pakistan, not only in Central Asia but also in Afghanistan. An important aspect of all of these geopolitical complexities is that China supports Pakistan's long-time ally in its confrontation with India. In this regard, it can be predicted that India, given the enduring enmity with the Pakistan-China bloc, may be one of the alternatives to the rising Chinese influence in Central Asia in the future. Increasing economic opportunities in India and the rapid growth of its population makes this scenario quite likely. In this regard, for Russia with varying degrees of severity there will be the question of which of the two traditional friends of Moscow – Delhi or Beijing – to make a stake on," Andrei Kazantsev told Vestnik Kavkaza.

ФОТО The Indian Prime Minister has designated a new stage in the foreign policy of New Delhi