Speaking at a government meeting on January 18, Tajikistan’s Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloyev said India has become one of his ministry’s key international partners. This statement reflects deepening defense cooperation between India and Tajikistan. The strong ties between the two militaries date back to the early 2000s, when New Delhi and Dushanbe jointly provided support to the anti-Taliban resistance forces, the Northern Alliance, in Afghanistan. Tajikistan is India’s closest neighbor in Central Asia, the region, which strategists in New Delhi view as part of their “extended neighborhood.” India’s growing engagement with the country has been interpreted by some analysts as signifying New Delhi’s intention to use Tajikistan as a potential springboard for its military in the region.
Yet India’s role in Tajikistan is more limited than many journalists and experts have suggested. A great deal of speculation about the allegedly growing presence of the Indian military in the country has been fuelled by India’s renovation of the Ayni airfield, 25 kilometers west of Dushanbe. The $70 million overhaul was completed in 2010, and included an extension of the runway and the construction of hangars, air traffic control tower, and administrative buildings (www.khovar.tj, September 3, 2010).
The Indian military’s role in renovating the airfield provoked speculation that New Delhi intended to establish a military foothold in Tajikistan. Responding to such claims, Tajik authorities have insisted that they do not intend to grant New Delhi basing rights, and that the only country with which they hold talks on the use of the Ayni base is Russia. Indian officials, however, have not explicitly denied their interest in the airfield, suggesting instead that it was up to Dushanbe to decide who would receive permission to use the facility (www.news.tj, November 11, 2010).