India, seeking to expand its strategic presence in Central Asia, is hoping to expand its military base in Tajikistan — its only such facility abroad — where Indian Air Force and Border Roads Organisation personnel have been stationed since 2005.
President Ram Nath Kovind visited Ayni Air Base, about 15 km west of the Tajik capital Dushanbe, during his October 7–9 trip and signalled India’s interest in expanding its presence there, according to sources. Almost 150 Indian personnel have been posted in Ayni. Kovind met the IAF contingent at the base.
India established a presence at Ayni in the days following the September 11 attacks and the US campaign in Afghanistan.
At that time, India operated a hospital at Farkhor on the Tajik-Afghan border, where legendary Afghan political leader Ahmed Shah Masood was treated.
India, Russia and Tajikistan agreed in 2002 to operate Ayni on a rotational basis once construction work at the air base was completed. The Border Roads Organisation helped to rebuild the airstrip and associated facilities at Ayni.
With India entering the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Eurasian alliance, and keen on stabilising Afghanistan in collaboration with Central Asian states and Russia besides expanding the counterterror partnership, boosting facilities at Ayni will be handy, experts pointed out.
Expanding defence ties with Tajikistan was among the talking points during President Kovind’s trip.