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Mainstream, VOL L, No 8, February 11, 2012

Which Way, Dushanbe?

Tuesday 14 February 2012, by Bashir Mohammad

Central Asia has for quite sometime now become the arena for a new Great Game involving Russia, the US and China. Such players like India close to the region as well as neighbouring Pakistan and Iran frequently fail to keep pace with the fast changing manoeuvres of the main protagonists that leave considerable impact on the regional capitals.

Let’s take the case of the Ayni air base in Tajikistan. New Delhi has invested a lot of money and expertise in modernising this military facility near Dushanbe, the Tajik capital. According to the initial understanding reached in the 1990s between Dushanbe, New Delhi and Moscow, this Indian outpost on the other side of the Hindu Kush was to serve as a common bulwark against the Taliban and Pakistani hotheads in case they were able to override the Northern Alliance’s resistance and extend jehad beyond the Pyandz river.

Then the Americans arrived on the scene with their ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ (it was undeniably ‘enduring’ indeed!). Washington views with profound suspicion all activities capable of upsetting its intricate political calculations in Kabul geared towards undermining the Afghans’ capacity to fight the Taliban on their own strength (with some help from India, Iran and Russia).

This is where the New Delhi-Dushanbe military cooperation has come into focus. This cooperation has been forged without any kind of US supervision and hence it is not to Washington’s liking (and the US Administration’s likes and dislikes are so strong that they cannot be possibly brushed aside or ignored by anyone—after all it represents the global supercop, doesn’t it?). That is why since 2001 the Ayni air base, a symbol of Indo-Tajik military cooperation evolving independent of Washington (the Pentagon in particular), is facing major difficulties and hurdles. The basic truth is that under guidance from the US Embassy in Tajikistan, Foreign Minister Zarifi and others—like local politicians and servicemen—close to the Americans, are working overtime engender misunderstanding among Tajik President Rakhmon, Russian and Indian leaders.

To “resolve” the issue the Pentagon decided some months ago to get the Ayni air base for use by the US military. The US-Tajik negotiations at Dushanbe last December concluded with an agreement to lease the base. It is learnt that US Assistant Secretary of State Blake and the Tajik side are to hold another round of discussions to fine-tune the price issues in the near future.

Therefore it is quite pertinent to ask: which way, Dushanbe? Can and should policies undergo radical change and principles be flouted with impunity to serve the interests of the sole superpower only for a few pieces of silver?

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