Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Indians evicted out their only military base outside India in of Ayini-Tajiksitan: Can they return?

Regular readers of Rupee News are fully aware that we have been tracking the Ayini base since its inception. Indian terror base in Farkhor Tajikistan exports sabotage to China, Iran and Pakistan. This article not only traces the history, it also tracks the current situation.

On July 30th, 2009, we wrote this.

President Zardari made a trip to Dushambe and discussed many issues with the Tajik president. Most of it was reported in the press. One issues that was not mentioned by the press is the Bharati presence in Tajikistan. This has been identified as a huge issue for Pakistan. Bharati jets can take off from Farkhor and reach Pakistan within minutes. The base offers Bharat a bird-eye view of Northern Pakistan and the Migs that are stationed at the base are a direct threat to China and Pakistan. Ambassador Bhadrakumar actually reported that Bharat has two bases in Tajikistan.  India’s two bases in Tajikistan major threat to Pakistan & China!

These Bharati bases are a clear and present danger to China and Pakistan and must be shut down forthwith.

Our fortuitous warning was apparently heeded. Now Peter Lee reports that in September of last year, India’s Ayini base was shut down.

For some years after the demise of the USSR, Delhi was allowed a field hospital in Farkhor in Tajikistan. In typical “give them a foot and they will take a mile” Bharat tried to over reach and set up a base at Ayini. They fixed the runaway and hoped to build a full fledged base—as if it was a Superpower or something. Ayini was much heralded as “India’s first foreign Airbase”. There were dreams that Migs would charge down, from the Ferghana Valley and have the ability to swoop down to Islamabad within minutes. Indian “Defense Analysts” wrote reams about the “Ayini Air Force base”, and how it had strategically altered India’s reach to Central Asia. Almost no security column was written in India without mentioning the great Ayini base.On Christmas Day 2005, Shashank Joshi was chest thumping about India’s bases in Tajiksitan. Little did he know about the eviction notice.

  • In July, reportedly at the behest of a seemingly "displeased" Moscow, Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrahon Zaripov declared that Dushanbe was not negotiating with New Delhi about permitting India a military base at Ayni.
  • Tajikistan, responding to some combination of Russian resentment, Chinese objections, and insufficient bribery, decided to evict 150 Indian military engineers, support staff, and trainers from Ayni
  • In a classic case of overreach, Delhi has tried to set up a base in Mongolia

The eviction of India from Tajikistan is a seminal event for Central Asia—because it cuts Bharat down to size.. It could be pure coincidence but the eviction occurred right after the Russians, Pakistanis and Tajiks announced a Karachi to Dushambe road and rail link. The increased cooperation between Tajikistan and Pakistan was announced during a trip made by President Zardari. It is poignant to note that President Patil of India made a trip soon aft wards in September---but was handed the eviction papers by the president of Tajikistan. Peter Lee in a fascinating article published in Asia Times reveals that the Indians have been evicted from Ayini—this time for good.

In 2006, Hree is the Defence of India on a historical perspective as seen as Mr. Lee:

Up to a point, Russia has been able to enlist India - now firmly committed to the civilization-versus-terror narrative courtesy of its burgeoning partnership with the US - in endorsing this world view.
Russia and India share a convergence of strategic interests in Afghanistan, one that conflicts with China's desire to let the Pashtuns sort things out in their own bloody fashion under the watchful eye of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.

Russia hopes to leverage the Afghan crisis into an acceptance of Moscow's security leadership by Stans vulnerable to Taliban-inspired Islamic militancy. India recognizes any victory by pro-Pakistan Pashtun factions, Taliban or otherwise, in Afghanistan as a defeat for its efforts to distract and bedevil Pakistan.
This shared interest was reflected in the joint statement of Manmohan and President Dmitry Medvedev, which used the rhetoric of terrorism to preclude negotiating with the Taliban insurgency - the unacknowledged centerpiece of the US strategy to cobble together a political settlement and depart the benighted region.
The communique stated:"[Russia and India] agree that the fight against terrorism cannot be selective, and drawing false distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban would be counter-productive."
But a meaningful alliance between Russia and India appears to founder on the collision between Moscow's crude anti-diplomacy and India's ineffectual and opportunistic outreach. Their divergence of interests is neatly illustrated in the determined dance of the two powers with the tiny republic of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan borders Afghanistan to the north. The Tajik ethnic group disregards the artificial border and dominates northwestern Afghanistan, including the Ferghana Valley, the legendary bulwark of the anti-Pashtun, anti-Taliban Tajik leader and Russian asset, Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Russia relied on Tajikistan to provide a logistical rear area for its support of the Northern Alliance during the period of Taliban domination. India pitched in by constructing a military hospital at the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan territory a scant two kilometers from the Afghan border. Massoud, mortally wounded by an al-Qaeda hit squad, died at the hospital two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Now, Tajikistan is the new hotspot in the global "war on terror" as it forms the centerpiece of US Central Command commander General David Petraeus' efforts to support the Afghan surge with a new supply route - the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) - bypassing Pakistan - and bringing an ocean of cash, development, graft and trouble to the impoverished mountain republic.
Tajikistan security has deteriorated markedly as militants fleeing the Pakistan government crackdown in Waziristan have found refuge in Tajikistan's vulnerable border regions. Tajikistan's Taliban problems have also been exacerbated by the movement of militants to Afghanistan's previously peaceful northern border districts to attack the NDN.
In addition to the US and NATO, Russia and India sense opportunity in Tajikistan, giving the local boss, Emomali Rahmon, a chance to play off one interested party against the other and settle old scores - and reveal the fragility of the strategic partnership between Russia and India in Central Asia.

After the US-led invasion, India maintained its presence at Farkhor and, in a virtually unreported development, quietly negotiated terms in 2002 for its first significant military base outside India, at the Ayni airport on the outskirts of Tajikistan's capital of Dushanbe.

India's ubiquitous quasi-military Border Roads Organization - which increasingly finds itself operating beyond India's borders in places like Afghanistan - went to work expanding Ayni's runway. Stories were floated to anxious observers in Beijing and Islamabad that India would station helicopters or even MiG fighters at Ayni in order to project its power into the remote corners of Central Asia.
The catch was that Ayni would be operated in rotation by Russia, India and Tajikistan, and the Indian Air Force would be reliant on Russia's good offices and logistical support to maintain its presence.

In 2007, an Indian defense website reported:

The Russians have given India the option of sending a squadron of Mi-17 helicopters to Ayni, with a detachment of pilots and support personnel. With Russia and Uzbekistan just next door, logistics support has been assured. Russia has also offered to build fighter maintenance infrastructure at Ayni with India. The option will be made available to India to base a squadron of MiG-29 fighters at the base, but this will not be in the near future, though the implications of this are huge - Indian fighters can be scrambled at a moment's notice for operations anywhere in the area. With mid-air refuelling support promised by the Russians, their reach will be immense.

But what Russia giveth, it taketh away.

Russia has been eyeing India's rapprochement with the US with considerable jealousy and anxiety. It apparently also covets Ayni (and the runway improved by India) as a platform for its own aircraft, so the Russian-backed security collective, the CSTO, can make a statement of its importance in the suddenly significant northern Afghan theater.
Last September, India apparently tried to bypass its putative partner, Russia, and play its own bilateral hand in Tajikistan. India's President Pratihba Patil paid an unprecedented visit to Tajikistan to talk up potential economic, aid, security links and India's interest in Ayni.

However, reports indicate that Tajikistan, responding to some combination of Russian resentment, Chinese objections, and insufficient bribery, decided to evict 150 Indian military engineers, support staff, and trainers from Ayni.

Russia's desire to demonstrate its leverage over its putative strategic partner seems to have been decisive.
An Indian defense website picked up a report from the News Post India:

"This [Russian pressure] appears to be a ploy for more concessions and indulgence from India," a senior military officer associated with the Central Asian Region said. Its Moscow's way of telling New Delhi not to "stray" into the American military hardware camp, the official told IANS.
India annually conducts defense business of over $1.5 billion [...] with Russia, and since the 1960s has acquired Soviet and Russian military equipment worth over $30 billion.
Over the next decade, military planners anticipate purchases of over $40 billion to replace or upgrade India's predominantly Soviet and Russian defense equipment that have reached collective obsolescence.

Moscow is understandably anxious to encash this potential and is wary of competition from other suppliers, particularly the US, in support of IAF's latest requirement of 126 multi-role combat aircraft.

Alongside, India is deadlocked in delicate discussions with Russia wanting to renegotiate its $85 billion Sukhoi 30MkI multi-role fighter deal by demanding a higher price for the timely delivery of the combat aircraft with the agreed specifications.

In July, reportedly at the behest of a seemingly "displeased" Moscow, Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrahon Zaripov declared that Dushanbe was not negotiating with New Delhi about permitting India amilitary base at Ayni.

As the US demonstrated in its convoluted but ultimately successful (and expensive) efforts to forestall eviction from its airbase at Manas Airport in Kyrgyzstan, even apparently hopeless situations can be turned around through the right combination of concessions to Russia and payoffs to the local potentate.

So India might still find a precarious foothold for its air force in Tajikistan, but it will remain beholden to the support of its unpopular Russian patron for its continued presence.
It is not surprising that Russia's heavy-handed approach to Central Asia security, India's aspirations, and military sales has forestalled a genuine strategic partnership between Moscow and New Delhi that will counter the "soft power" outreach of Beijing through the SCO.

While acknowledging seemingly every international organization that engages India - or, like the SCO, resists India's determined efforts to engage with it - the December Russia-India communique made no mention of Russia's pet geopolitical projects: the European Security Treaty or the CTSO.

However, for the time being New Delhi seems bereft of its own strategy and resources for advancing its independent interests inCentral Asia.
As long as India continues to rely on its equivocal relationship as an auxiliary to Russia and, increasingly, the US in their great power machinations in Central Asia, it is likely that India and Russia will keep spinning their gears as China and the SCO continue to move ahead.
Russia-India ties sour in Central Asia By Peter Lee. Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.

In 2007, Bharat faced certain eviction as reported by Defense of India

India is likely to be evicted from its sole, albeit fledgling, overseas military facility at Ayni air base near Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe under pressure from Russia, which is concerned over New Delhi's burgeoning ties with Washington.

Senior military officials said the emerging possibility of India looking to Washington and other Western suppliers for military hardware was responsible for Russia "leveraging" its considerable influence with Tajikistan to try and terminate New Delhi's "loose arrangement" regarding Ayni if it declined to be "co-operative".

In 2007, Delhi was able to assuage the fears of the Russian, and gotten itself a stay order. Can it do the same again?

What Lee does not mention are the other important events that are happening in Central Asia.

1) China rail integrates Afghanistan, Tajikistan, & Pakistan. China is known for walking silently and brandishing a big stick. This is a seminal event in the history of their region. This news item did not make a headline in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Very quietly China is beginning to encroach upon Afghanist and and ensuring that it is integrated with the economies of Tajikisan, Western China and Pakistan. Linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan to Gwader is a very strategic step that will pay dividends in the long run. The US has ostensibly spent $15 Billion in Afghanistan, but it has nothing to show for it. The reason is that by US law half of the aid stays in America, and 25% is spent on logistics.

2) Tajikistan-Pakistan relations to be bound by energy road & rail ties. Zardari said rail and road links between the two countries through Afghanistan would open Pakistani seaports giving Tajikistan access to the sea, adding that opening of road links was critical to bringing the countries in the region together and for increasing people-to-people contacts, which would benefit the countries’ economically and socially.A pre-feasibility study of the 1,300-kilometer long road connecting Pakistan with Tajikistan and central Asia through the Durrah Pass had already been undertaken, the president was quoted as saying.Transmission line: President Zardari also emphasized early implementation of the 1,000-kilometre-long power transmission line from Tajikistan to Pakistan, known as the Central Asia-South Asia 1000.

3) Kyrgyzstan Pakistan road link integrates OIC & ECO. Kashgar is no longer a mythical land in some ephemeral country–brought to us by Alama Iqbal’s dream and Chaudhry Rehmat Ali’s vision. Kashgar is the end point of the Karakoram Highway on the Chinese side of the border. It is linked to Pakistan by culture, language, and religion, now in Chinese friendship.Pakistan and China are linked by road and are planning to link up by rail. The road and rail link is being extended to Tajikistan. Now the Kyrgyz government wants to link up with Pakistan. The Pakistan and China link would be extended to Kyrgyzstan and then loop down to hook up with Tajikistan and Pakistan (through the narrow strip of land of Afghanistan). Looping upward it would hook up to the other countries of the ECO and the SCO–the future of Pakistan. Kyrgyzstan is working to establish direct road links with Pakistan through Karakoram Highway to further improve bilateral trade and economic relations between the two countries.

These events bring Pakistan closer to Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and China and integrates their economies like bees in a honeycomb. Bound by geography, culture and hsitory that extends beyond the founder of the Mughal and Muslim dynasties, the countries of the ECO are coming together in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago. However Chaudhry Rehmat Ali.

Movements across the world are brining the Muslim world together. Some misguided ones are using violent means. Other non-violent ones are threatening others. Pakistani leadership has to grab the mantle and take the ECO to the next level.

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