NEW DELHI: India would oblige any request for upgrading of Ayni airbase near Dushanbe as Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon comes starts his two day visit to India.
It is President Rahmon’s 6th visit to India and he will be entering the country through Kochi, which is not an official part of his visit. The Ayni airbase near Tajikistan’s capital city was refurbished by India in 2007 and is seen as New Delhi’s strategy to find a toehold in the Central Asia.
There have been reports of India’s interest in taking the airbase on lease. However, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) dismissed the reports. “The Ayni airbase is of Tajikistan and as a strategic partner they have requested earlier for some resources, for example this ALS (Advance Landing System) which was to be replaced, which we did. As and when any such proposal comes to us for helping them out and making it functional, we would be more than happy to do that, but I don’t think that we are going in the direction which you are suggesting,” MEA Joint Secretary (Eurasia) G Srinivas said.
The airbase has been the first and so far the only instance of India developing a foreign military base. However, it is far from being fully operational as there are no fighter jets operating from it. New Delhi had shown interest to deploy a complement of helicopters and fighter jets, but Russian concerns have made it to put the plans in abeyance.
Following the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC 814 and its later force landing in Kandahar, New Delhi has been scouting for an airbase giving it access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Besides this airbase, India had also helped Tajikistan in setting up a field hospital, known as India-Tajikistan Friendship Hospital, in Farkhor in 1990s, and it is said to have served as India’s support base for Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. However, the Indian establishment has been insistent that the nature of India-Tajikistan defence cooperation has training as a major component.
“… Our engagement with Tajikistan is more in terms of training, as I just pointed out to you, and of course not to also miss out on that whole creation of infrastructure, bringing back that airfield of Ayni to such a position that it is one of the best airfields now in the region, so that is the engagement with that country,” Srinivas added.
India is also working on tapping the unexplored hydro-power potential of Tajikistan that has 90 percent of the water resources in Central Asia.