The partnership signed with Dushanbe on 9 November rounds off India’s plan to become the new intelligence hub for Afghanistan. The sweeping bilateral agreement, signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national security adviser Ajit Doval and Tajikistan’s security council secretary Nasrullo Rahmatjon Mahmudzoda under the watchful eye of senior Indian military and intelligence officials, gives India a stronger military and political hold in Central Asia. It also provides it with a strategic view of Kashmir, a region disputed by Islamabad.
Strengthening military bases
One of the first outcomes of the new deal will be an increase in Indian Air Force (IAF) numbers at the Gissar Military Aerodrome (GMA) it jointly runs in Ayni, a village on the outskirts of Dushanbe. This was India’s very first military presence outside its borders. The agreement also includes the rollout of Akash air defence systems and a surveillance radar network station operated by some 50 Indian soldiers and airmen. New Delhi has also deployed an An-32 transport aircraft, three Mi-17 helicopters and several S-125 Pechora surface-to-air defence systems to the base.
New Delhi had previously set up an aviation research centre in Tajikistan that is essentially a surveillance station run by India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing. The unit has proven useful for keeping an eye on Kashmir and China. At the outbreak of the Afghan conflict in 2001, the Indian Air Force used the Farkhor Air Base to observe the Afghan border. The base had a small military hospital that treated fighters from Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance. New Delhi later closed it in favour of a 50-bed hospital in Qurghonteppa, mainly for Tajik soldiers.
In its two decades of existence, the GMA has undergone numerous upgrades – work has been done to the runway, several hangars and repair facilities costing around $100m. The heavy investment – partly funded by the Indian military agency Border Roads Organisation – has ensured India’s hold on the base once coveted by Moscow.
Shared position on Saleh
At the signing, Doval and Mahmudzoda expressed their political support for Amrullah Saleh as the president of the Afghanistan government in exile. The former Indian ambassador to Tajikistan, Yogendra Kumar is now in charge of how to put this position in practice. Having coordinated Indian support for Massoud’s troops in the early 2000s, the ex-diplomat, now a lecturer and consultant, is leading strategic talks with Dushanbe for the future installation of Saleh’s government. Meanwhile, Massoud’s son Ahmad Massoud has moved closer to Dushanbe
Rivalries disrupting regional cooperation
This partnership also serves to reassure a Tajikistan worried about the Afghan conflict spilling into the country and a rise in radical and terrorist groups controlled by the Taliban. India and Tajikistan have committed themselves to strengthening bilateral regional security mechanisms, notably in order to cut off drug trafficking routes. However, these tools are in direct competition with those put implemented at a regional level by the Collective Security Treaty Organisation guided by Moscow, and the Beijing-leaning Shanghai Cooperation Organisation .
India and Tajikistan signed their new partnership on the eve of New Delhi’s regional strategic dialogue, held on 10 November. The summit brought together national security advisers from India, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Pakistani and Chinese agents, although on the guest list, did not respond to the invite.