Indians Now Looking At New Air Base In Tajikistan?
The government, sources said, has now decided to go back to Tajikistan and open a military hospital. The original proposal to revive its presence in Tajikistan was taken a year back, but the defence ministry sat on it. With prodding from the security establishment, sources said efforts are now underway to open a field hospital before winter sets in. At a high level meeting a few days ago, the government decided to speed up the plan, a senior source said.
Sources said an Army team has already completed reconnaissance in Tajikistan and has identified a location outside Dushanbe, the capital city. Army has also identified personnel from its medical corps to set up a 20-bed field hospital. "They are ready to leave on a short notice," the source said.
"The proposal (to open hospital) was first mooted when the Army chief (Gen V K Singh) visited Tajikistan last year. But the entire proposal has been pending with the MoD for a year now," a senior source in the security establishment told TOI. The hospital would cater to both civilians and Tajik military, he said. The Tajik Army has for long been engaged in fighting a bloody insurgency. "So, our hospital would be of great assistance to the Tajik Army," the source said.
It's not clear why, exactly, India decided to accelerate the establishment of this hospital, but the news comes as India's army chief is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (and not Tajikistan) amid what seems to be a push to increase their presence in Central Asia.
But more intriguingly, almost as an afterthought, the report adds this:
A strong section in the security establishment would like to extend the runway at Farkhor airbase and stage air force assets there...
[T]he suggestion is to base either Russian-made helicopters or Russian fighters there and then invite the Russians to maintain them. However, the air force for now is reluctant to move its assets so far out, sources said.
Recall that India had been seeking the use of a different airbase, at Ayni near Dushanbe, until apparent Russian pressure forced them to give up the plan. So is New Delhi now trying again at Farkhor, very close to the Afghanistan border, where they had a small field hospital pre-9/11? This Russian participation is pretty token: the original plans to base Indian planes at Ayni also involved Russian-built aircraft. And the presence of a few Russian mechanics to maintain them wouldn't seem to do much to camouflage the fact that this would again be an Indian air base in Tajikistan. But it seems the drama over an Indian air base in Tajikistan isn't over yet.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.