India in Tajikistan: may be a necessity for the region
by Ramtanu Maitra on 24 Nov 2010 7 Comments

Indian Army Chief Vijay Kumar Singh’s four-day (Nov.10-13) visit to Tajikistan took place at a critical juncture for both Tajikistan and Afghanistan. A stronger Indian presence in Tajikistan is not only the requirement of the day, but is a good thing for the region.


It is good for a number of reasons. To begin with, the war waged in Afghanistan by the United States and NATO is now in its tenth year. Although full-fledged battle fatigue has not set in, the collapsing EU and the debt-ravaged United States is no longer in a position to continue this indefinite war, though neither Washington nor Brussels could muster up enough courage to call it quits. The saying, when going gets tough, the tough get going, has been changed to when the going gets tough, the tough starts cribbing. That is so perhaps because the “tough” is no longer that tough.


From India’s and region’s point of view, an orderly departure by the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan is a good thing. But, neither Washington nor Brussels has given us any indication that any of the two warriors wants an orderly departure. In this context, an orderly departure means engaging fruitfully the major powers and neighbours in the region to work out a solution which over a period of time would bring a functional stability in Afghanistan.


Instead, what we see are rejuvenated efforts on behalf of the US and NATO to manipulate those who were involved in Afghanistan and blame one or the other for their ten year-long unending misadventure. One such likely victim of manipulation could be India, and it should gird its loins forthwith and prepare for an alternative move. The move to put military boots on Tajik soil, bordering Afghanistan, is clearly a strategic requirement, although that may antagonize India’s alleged strategic friend, the United States.


Get India out of Afghanistan


A number of articles have appeared in the United States which clearly state that the Indian presence in Afghanistan is the “reason” why Pakistan has remained belligerent towards the United States and is not helping Washington as much Washington wants it to. Very few in the United States could grab the fact that Pakistan was never interested in helping out the United States to eliminate the terrorist assets they had trained and armed to “take care” of India. Their view is perhaps coloured by their belief that the dollars they have pumped into Pakistan over the years were enough to “buy” Pakistan’s loyalty. But then that is Washington. In recent years, American authorities have given reality, be it in the war theater or in the economic sphere, the proverbial go-by. Instead, they have begun to “create” their own reality, however absurd that could be.


Bob Woodward, in his insider’s book, Obama’s War, pointed out that “in meeting after meeting, Obama prods his advisers to think deeply about the underlying problem of Pakistan’s perpetual insecurity regarding India; this fear, Obama notes, explains the ISI’s support for the Taliban and other radical groups, as a shield against prospective Indian hegemony. ‘Why can’t we have straightforward talks with India on why a stable Pakistan is crucial?’ he demands at one point. Now, this is what POTUS (President of the United States), the top dog in the United States, is saying and ostensibly this is what he believes.


But there are others of lesser pedigree who have come to similar conclusions. Take for instance, Doug Noll. Writing recently for the bastion of America’s liberal press, The Huffington Post, Noll said: “…In the Pakistani military's view, the international community will leave Afghanistan as President Obama has promised. When that happens, Pakistan feels that it must install a friendly regime in Kabul, one that will expel the pro-Karzai Indian advisors and provide a potentially friendly area to the rear of Pakistan in the event of another major war with India. This is the Pakistani idea of ‘strategic depth.’ The most likely candidate for a friendly government is the Pashtun-dominated Afghan Taliban. However, Pakistan is also battling a civil war with the Pakistani Taliban, also composed of Pashtuns. In Pakistan's eyes, the Pakistani Taliban is a dangerous rebel, while the Afghan Taliban is the next government of Afghanistan…”


The most clear cut statement of facts on this issue however came out in the Washington Post as an op-ed on Nov.8 while President Obama was winding up his India trip. That op-ed, penned by David Pollock, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a senior State Department adviser for the broader Middle East from 2002 to 2007, was titled: Our Indian problem in Afghanistan.


The title really says it all. In his article, Pollock led off saying “President Obama's trip to India offers a crucial, and counterintuitive, opportunity missing in all the talk about Afghanistan: how to accommodate Pakistan's interests in that country. Unless we find a way to do that, Pakistan will not stop its tolerance of or support for the Afghan Taliban or other extremists on its border with Afghanistan - nor will it let us eradicate them…”


Next, answering his rhetorical question, what are those interests, Pollock said: “First and foremost, to minimize the presence and influence in Afghanistan of Pakistan’s own archrival, India. Yet somehow this point is absent from most American debates about these issues, probably because of our narrow focus on terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. In fact, the United States has stoked Pakistani paranoia by encouraging India to become the region’s major economic player in Afghanistan, to train Afghan officials, and exercise other influence on the Afghan government and people.”


That was quite clear, wasn’t it? However, one should not take a leap of imagination at this point, assuming that Washington wants to accommodate Pakistan because it thinks highly of Pakistan’s role in the Afghan war. It doesn’t, not at all. On the contrary, Washington is aware (it should be, after all these years) that Pakistan has no intent to curb the terrorists. But, in order not to depart from Afghanistan the way the United States left Vietnam in April of 1975, hanging on to the last helicopter, the going formulation is to appease Pakistan and work out a less shameful departure from Afghanistan.


But, that is US’ option. It was US’ war anyway, although Washington sucked in a quite a few nations calling it a war on terror. Under the circumstances, New Delhi, no longer a minnow in the world pond, must make a counter-move to protect its own and the region’s interest.


Why Indian boots are needed on Tajik ground


Kicking India out of Afghanistan in order to pave the way for a less disorderly departure for the foreign troops ensures handing over control of Afghanistan to a Saudi-Pakistan-controlled militant group. They could be “moderate Taliban” or whatever else Washington and Brussels may want to label them, the fact remains that these foot-soldiers of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, seeking to spread Wahhabism throughout Central Asia with the intent of establishing a Caliphate, are also helped by the always-empire seeker Britain, and the Britain-influenced elite of the United States, to pose a constant threat to Russia as well as to China.


A strong military presence in Tajikistan will drive the fear of Allah in the hearts of reckless and willing Pakistani adventurists, who were deftly led into this game by the money bags in Riyadh and their brain-trusts in London. Islamabad has noticed this intent of the Indian authorities and it pleases them none whatsoever. They note that it is in Tajikistan where India has taken quiet strides to further its “(a) ambitions of becoming a regional power and (b) encircle Pakistan from the side of CARs also”, noted recently by Zahid Malik, a Pakistani analyst in an article, India encircles Pakistan.


Brushing aside his paranoia about Indian military presence in Tajikistan, what comes out loud and clear is that Pakistan military’s much-vaunted strategic depth, a military strategy promoted widely in order to secure Pakistani military control in Afghanistan by two former Pakistani military generals, Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul, will lie in tatters if and when India puts fighter bombers on Tajik airbases. Malik says “Indian planes can reach Pakistan within minutes. This is a significant development because of the geographical location of Tajikistan which borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and a narrow strip of Afghan territory separates it from Pakistan. According to defense analysts, from Tajikistan India would be in a position to strike Pakistan's rear in case of any conflict in future.


The old jihadis unleashed again


To begin with, Tajikistan is once more on the cross-hairs of Islamic jihadis, the very same who were trained in Pakistan along with the Wahhabi-doctrinated and Saudi-funded groups, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkatul Mujahideen, to name a few. These are the terrorists who received their training from the Pakistani Army, sheltered by Islamabad and are working hand-in-glove with various foreign intelligence groups trying to drum up serious trouble within the Indian-part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


Indian military presence, which the Army Chief’s visit is designed to materialize, will provide Tajik forces the necessary teeth to take on those criminals and crush them. Reports indicate that Gen. V.K. Singh, who met with the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and Tajik defense minister Sherali Khairulloyev, discussed prospects of military-technical cooperation between the two countries. This issue is of prime importance now in light of the fact that on Sept.19, the Saudi-funded Wahhabi-indoctrinated militants, trained by the Pakistani military and a mish-mash of terrorists assembled under the wide umbrella of al-Qaeda, had ambushed a Tajik military convoy of 75 Tajik troops in Tajikistan’s Rasht Valley, killing 25 personnel according to official reports. Reportedly, the militants met with “success” because they had attacked from higher ground with small arms, automatic weapons and grenades.


The Tajik troops were in the Rasht Valley seeking to recapture 25 individuals linked to the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) militant groups that had escaped from prison in Dushanbe on Aug. 24. The daring prison break was conducted by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), who recruit from the “peace-loving preachers” belonging to the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is headquartered in Britain. The prison-break resulted in the death of five security guards and Dushanbe put the country on red alert.


The Sept.19 attack was the deadliest, but did not strike out of the blue. On Sept.3, an attack on a police station that involved a suicide operative and a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in the northwest Tajik city of Khujand had killed four police officers. The Khujand attack stands out particularly because it occurred outside militant territory. Khujand, Tajikistan’s second-largest city after the capital, is located at the mouth of the Ferghana Valley, the largest population center in Central Asia infested with drugs from Afghanistan and Islamic jihadis from Afghanistan-Pakistan region.


New Delhi must have paid special attention to these developments, keeping in mind the potential of yet another civil war breaking out in Tajikistan, aided by criminal elements pushed from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Britain. The location of Tajikistan is strategic in the sense that it borders war-ravaged Afghanistan in particular, and is located also on the road to Russia, a nation whose security is of great importance to India. To note, the 1990s civil war in Tajikistan also involved Khujand and the UTO. It is not forgotten that more than one thousand Uzbek Islamists – including a number of renegade militants who fled persecution in Uzbekistan – had settled in the eastern Qarategin valley posing a serious security threat to Tajikistan.


The militants were involved in guerrilla attacks in Kyrgyzstan, which has since become highly vulnerable to the criminal alliance between drug traffickers and Islamic jihadis trying to split the country. Reports indicate that these Uzbek militants are no longer in Qarategin valley, but it is almost a certainty that they would re-appear if the security situation continues to deteriorate in Tajikistan. As long these criminals, masquerading as Islamic jihadis, exist in the area, the threat to Tajikistan’s security is a given item. That is why India should have a clear and visible presence in Tajikistan.


However, to have a strong presence in Tajikistan, New Delhi must work out an arrangement over the control of the Ayni airbase. Ayni airbase has been rebuilt and is coveted by a number of countries, such as Russia, China, India, among others. The Tajik newspaper Ozodagon said last June that “it looks like India is in the lead”.


The news article also pointed out that India had funded in upgrading the airfield, and India’s president was in Tajikistan in the fall of 2009. The long and short of it, according to Ozodagon, is that India has a better chance than others to use the Ayni airfield. If that is so, there is no reason why New Delhi should not step up diplomatic and economic activities to ensure Dushanbe sign a contract with India for the control and use of the Ayni airbase.


The author is South Asian Analyst at Executive Intelligence Review News Services Inc.

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