NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will script history when he visits Army’s strategic field hospital in Tajikistan, which supported the Northern Alliance (NA) fighters against the Taliban till 15 years ago.
Even though no dates have been officially announced yet for Modi’s six-nation tour scheduled for early July, sources said he would certainly visit the 50-bed hospital thereby becoming the first Indian PM to set foot on Tajik Military Cantonment in Eastern Khuroson district, that was built in record time. The PM, though, 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 the wounded NA fighters were treated by the Army doctors. It was the same medical unit that Afghan political and military leader Ahmad 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 attacks in the US.
New Delhi closed down the field hospital after the fighting ended with the collapse of Taliban Government in 2001. But, it was revived in spirit, when the country opened a fully-equipped military hospital inside a Cantonment, which was inaugurated by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon in October.
Over 70 Indian personnel are posted at the hospital, which also tends to 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 provinces, the Taliban and Afghan security forces are waging an intense battle. “We are looking at the troubles in Northern Afghanistan with great concern. We have strengthened our forces on the border,” Mirzosharif Jalolov, Tajikistan Ambassador to India, told Express.
Especially worrying is the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in Northern Afghanistan and it has led Tajik officials to issue dire warnings about its impact on Central Asia. “This is a very serious issue,” Jalolov said, adding there were around 200-300 Tajiks in IS ranks.
In such a scenario, Modi’s visit comes at an opportune time to yet again underscore the need for unity on counter-terrorism and defence, especially since visits by Indian leaders to Central Asia are rare. Vajpayee was the last Prime Minister to visit Tajikistan in 2002, while Tajik President has been to India five times between 1993 and 2012.
“In diplomacy, high-level visits are very appreciative and welcome. Close contacts between leaders can solve many problems,” said Jalolov.
As a special gesture, President Rahmon might show Modi around one of Tajikistan’s beautiful leisure spots, Varzob Gorge, cut by a swift-flowing river, located just outside the country’s capital Dushanbe. Tajikistan would be one of the stops on Modi’s tour of Russia and five Central Asian countries which is likely to get under way on July 6. As a result of the Trilateral Alliance, India has close defence ties with Tajikistan and Tajik cadets and officers are trained at 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.