- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

NEW DELHI India has established its first military facility outside its territory in Tajikistan, signaling cooperation between the two countries in the war on terrorism and a role for the South Asian nation in the race for access to oil- and gas-rich Central Asia.
Diplomatic and military sources said the base in Farkhor, Tajikistan, close to the Afghanistan border, has been "quietly operational" since May.
New Delhi says that the base has been useful to funnel relief assistance that India pledged to Afghanistan after the Taliban's ouster last year, but military analysts think the facility represents India's long-term goals for the region.
"It is a move in keeping with New Delhi's aim of joining in the new 'Great Game' playing itself out in the central region, where fierce competition for the area's vast energy resources is intensifying," said New Delhi-based defense analyst Rahul Bedi.
Ved Prakash Malik, India's former army chief, said: "Geostrategically, Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics form a part of India's extended neighborhood. It is, therefore, necessary to safeguard our legitimate national interests in this region. This military diplomacy will also help keep peace and stability in the region."
It is believed that New Delhi first expressed its desire to establish a full-fledged military base in Farkhor when Gen. Sherali Khayrulloyev, the Tajik defense minister, visited India in December.
More talks were held when a high-level Indian military delegation visited Tajikistan in February. A formal agreement was signed in April during Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes' visit to Dushanbe, the Tajik capital, and the base became operational a month later.
Under the deal, the two countries agreed to cooperate in the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda. India also agreed to train Tajik defense personnel and service their Soviet and Russian military equipment, and teach the Tajik army and air force to speak English.
Indian defense sources said the base had been helpful in transporting aid to Kabul while tensions between India and Pakistan led to a mutual ban on flights over each other's territories. Indian military aircraft landed at Farkhor for refueling and transferred aid materials onto smaller planes for Kabul.
"Tajikistan was the conduit for humanitarian and security-related assistance which India provided Afghanistan's legitimate regime," the Northern Alliance, even before the fall of the Taliban, said retired Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, head of the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
"Tajikistan has a crucial role to play in maintaining peace along Afghanistan's northern borders, to battle jihadis, drug traffickers, and to stop the flow of illegal weapons. And for this it needs to train its security personnel," he said.
For many years, India secretly ran a military hospital in Farkhor, where it treated Northern Alliance soldiers wounded in their war with the Taliban. Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood, who was fatally wounded by two Arab suicide bombers days before the September 11 attacks, died in this hospital.
India admitted the existence of the 25-bed field hospital only recently, when it was shifted to Kabul. It provided medical and surgical facilities under the care of 24 Indian army doctors and paramedics.
The New Delhi-financed hospital also provided free medical facilities to the local Tajik population.
India and Tajikistan both helped the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance fight the Taliban. According to Jane's Intelligence Review, Tajikistan helped India deliver to the alliance about $10 million worth of high-altitude warfare equipment. Indian air force helicopter technicians also were reported to have been based in Tajikistan to advise the alliance.
Analysts say the establishment of the Indian military base in Farkhor will improve India's relations with both Tajikistan and Afghanistan, helping it to contain nuclear rival Pakistan and militant Pakistani groups fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir.
"After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan aimed to fill the power vacuum in Kabul," said Bharat Karnad, an analyst with the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "Using jihad as a tool, its military establishment had long cherished ambitions of creating an inverted Islamic crescent from the disputed north Indian state of Kashmir to Afghanistan.
"An improved military and diplomatic tie with Afghanistan and Tajikistan could be the first step for India in its effort to contain the jihadi spillover into its territory."

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