NEW DELHI: Narendra Modi will become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the India-assisted military hospital in Tajikistan, a successor in spirit to the Indian Army’s strategic field hospital which supported Northern Alliance fighters against the Taliban till 15 years ago.
No dates have been officially announced yet for Modi’s six-country foreign tour in early July, but sources say the Prime Minister will certainly visit the 50-bed hospital that was built in record time in Tajik military cantonment in eastern Khuroson district. Modi is expected to be in the Central Asian country on July 12 and 13.
This was an easy decision to make. India had operated a famous field medical unit at Farkhor air base, where wounded NA fighters were treated by Indian Army doctors. It was the same medical unit that Afghan political and military leader Ahmed Shah Massoud was rushed to after being critically wounded in a suicide bomb attack by the al-Qaeda and breathed his last, two days before 9/11.
India closed down the field hospital after the fighting ended with collapse of Taliban government in 2001.
But it was revived in spirit, when India opened a fully-equipped military hospital inside a cantonment, which was inaugurated by Tajik president Emomali Rahmon last October.
Over 70 Indian personnel are posted at the hospital, which has also taken in civilian patients, to train local staff to use the state-of-the-art medical equipment. It is a visible strategic footprint in the region.
Along the Tajik-Afghan border, in Kunduz and Badakshan province, the Taliban and Afghan security forces are locked in intensive fighting.
“We are looking at the troubles in north Afghanistan with worry. We have strengthened our forces on the border,” Mirzosharif Jalolov, Tajikistan’s ambassador to India, told The Sunday Standard.
Especially worrying is the emergence of ISIS in northern Afghanistan which has led Tajik officials to issue dire warnings about its impact on Central Asia. “This is a very serious issue,” Jalolov said. “We estimate that there are about 200-300 Tajiks with ISIS,” he added.
In such a scenario, the visit of the Indian PM would be at a fortuitous time to again emphasis unity on counter-terrorism and defence, especially since visits by Indian leaders to Central Asia are rare. Vajpayee was the last PM to visit Tajikistan in 2002, while Tajik president has been to India five times between from 1993 to 2012.
“In diplomacy, high-level visits are very appreciative and welcome. Close contacts between leaders can solve many problems that are unnecessary interpretation by bureaucrats,” said Jalolov.
As a special gesture, President Rahmon may show Modi around one of Tajikistan’s beautiful pleasure spots, Varzob Gorge, cut by a swift-flowing river, just outside Dushanbe. Tajikistan will be one of the stops on PM’s tour of Russia and five Central Asian countries beginning July 6.
A consequence of the trilateral alliance, India has close defence ties with the country and Tajik cadets and officers are trained in Indian military institutions. India has been refurbishing the Ayni airfield, which Jalolov said was “nearing completion”. He clarified that there were no Indian fighter planes stationed at the airbase. “There are some cargo planes, but that’s it,” he said.
Meanwhile, as China continues to make deep inroads in Central Asia, Tajikistan wants to help more Indian companies to invest in transmission lines to implement CASA-1000 project to supply electricity from its hydropower projects across Central Asia and Pakistan.
“We have several Indian firms already bidding for setting up transmission lines, but we want to see more,” said Jalolov, adding that the number of those who have offered to take part in the process is over half a dozen.
Due to its abundant hydropower resources – about 54% in the region, Tajikistan also wants to improve its agricultural sector, and it is looking at India for help.
“India’s green revolution shows that there is a lot of experience in this sector, and we want cooperation in this,” he said.