Foreign military bases are not for the diffident
In late 2003 reports emerged of India building an air-base in Tajikistan. These were initially denied—India was only helping the Tajiks rebuild a Soviet-era airport that had fallen into disrepair. But Farkhor or Ayni, whatever it is that they’ll call it, is ready for service and is awaiting the Indian cabinet’s official green signal.
Under the trilateral agreement, India, Russia and Tajikistan will have command and control of the air base by rotation and a contingent of Defence Services personnel is already in Ayni after military contractors completed construction last December.
Ayniâ€™s use is limited by the fact that India has no direct access to Tajikistan with part of Kashmir and Northern Areas being controlled by Pakistan. Under the circumstances, the Indian team will have to work with the Russians, who already have a motorised division stationed in Tajikistan, for all logistical help and support.
India has plans to put a squadron of Mi-17 V1 helicopters at Ayni with logistical support coming from Russia in the landlocked Tajikistan. While Russia is operating fighters from this base, New Delhi does not want to commit fixed-wing platforms for Ayni. The Indian Air Force has already given flying training to Tajikistan air force personnel under the agreement. [IE]
India appears to have changed its mind on the assets it wants to deploy at Farkhor/Ayni. Instead of two squadrons of frontline MiG-29s aircraft, it’s just one helicopter squadron for now. That not only changes the symbolism, but also the strategic and tactical utility of the base. It is unclear whether the decision not to deploy frontline aircraft was motivated solely by logistics concerns. The UPA government might have decided to compromise India’s power projection capabilities in Central Asia in order not to overly affront Pakistan and China (or for that matter, Russia). It would be unfortunate if this were so. In any case, the cabinet would do well to authorise the operationalisation of the base promptly.