Indian PM To Visit All Five Central Asian States To Discuss Energy, Defense
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to visit all five Central Asian republics next week; the visit is expected to focus on energy cooperation but will also seek to boost India's growing military ties in the region and will include a visit to the newly built Indian military hospital in Tajikistan.
The tour will take place July 6-13, and will also include a stop in Ufa, Russia, for the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and BRICS -- India is a current member of the latter and is expected to join the former as a full member (along with Pakistan) at this summit.
"Countering the spread of Islamic State (IS) terror will be a key part" of the visit," The Hindu newspaper reported, citing "sources."
"The Prime Minister will discuss counter-terror technology, training forces and also countering radicalism. Significantly, the government had also appointed former [Intelligence Bureau] chief Asif Ibrahim as a special envoy recently, with a mandate to discuss the spread of IS and terrorism, and liaise with governments abroad on the issue," the newspaper reported. “'Given India’s efforts to counter Islamic radicalism, these Central Asian states, are natural allies,' an Indian official said."
Modi's visit to Tajikistan will include a trip to the military hospital that India built there last year, another Indian newspaper, The Sunday Standard, reported. "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," the paper reported.
It's not clear whether Modi will visit the Ayni air base outside Dushanbe, which India has spent millions renovating, but in an interview with the newspaper Tajikistan's ambassador to India Mirzosharif Jalolov, said that the renovations were still ongoing.
"India has close defence ties with the country and Tajik cadets and officers are trained in Indian military institutions," the paper reported. "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."
There was a lot of speculation several years ago about the Ayni air base and India's role in it, but in the end the expert consensus seemed to be that Russia somehow blocked India from using the base even after the latter had renovated it.
Other items on the visit's agenda include the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, the CASA-1000 project to transmit electricity from Central Asia to South Asia, and other energy projects.
But Indian military activity in the region has been steadily growing; earlier this year India completed its first-ever joint drills in Kyrgyzstan at a high-altitude military research center that India helped construct. We'll see if anything more comes out of this visit.