M A I N   N E W S

India to station MiG-29 fighter-bombers at
Tajikistan base
Rahul Bedi

New Delhi, April 21
India’s first overseas military facility in Tajikistan is expected to become operational by the year-end as part of New Delhi’s thrust into oil-rich Central Asia to meet its growing energy needs.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is to deploy a fleet of MiG-29 fighter-bombers at the airbase at Aini, 15 km from the Tajikistan capital Dushanbe.

India’s quasi-military Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is currently constructing three hangars at Aini, two of which will accommodate the 12 aircraft the IAF will deploy for varying periods, official sources said.

The Tajikistan Air Force, whose personnel the IAF is training under an April 2002 defence cooperation agreement, will utilise the third hangar. For this purpose the IAF also plans to station trainer aircraft at Aini.

The IAF is also helping its Tajik counterpart to retrofit its Soviet-era fighters while Indian civilian and military personnel are teaching the Tajik servicemen English.

The Indian Defence Ministry declined to comment on the Tajik base. However, defence planners said the base would provide New Delhi with a ‘‘longer strategic reach’’ in Central Asia and help it secure badly needed oil contracts.

Military sources said the BRO, supervised by a contingent of Indian Army and IAF personnel, is expected to complete work at Aini by the Tajik National Day (September 9).

The BRO took charge of the project earlier this year. This was after a New Delhi-based private builder who was allotted a $10 million contract in early 2003 to restore the airbase defaulted on completing the undertaking by end-2005. The base has been lying unused since mid-1980.

Senior military sources, preferring to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the project, said that a contingent of around 40 Indian Army and IAF personnel, including around six officers, and commanded by an army colonel, were overseeing the air base’s refurbishment.

This includes restoring its runway, the aircraft taxiing track and parking apron, besides building accommodation for a ‘‘sizeable’’ Indian military contingent.

India's initiative at Aini follows the establishment of its first military ‘‘outpost’’ in Tajikistan at Farkhor, adjoining the Tajik-Afghan border, that is manned by a handful of defence ‘‘advisers’’ from New Delhi.

The ‘‘quietly functional’’ Farkhor base is an extension of the field hospital India established in the late 1990s to help the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Technicians from the IAF and India’s secretive Aviation Research Centre (ARC) serviced and repaired the Alliance’s Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters for several years, until the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. The Research and Analysis Wing, India’s overseas intelligence-gathering agency, operates ARC.

India uses Farkhor principally to funnel economic and relief assistance it pledged to war-ravaged Afghanistan after 2001. Relief material is airlifted by the IAF to Aini, transported to Farkhor and into Afghanistan by road. Pakistan does not permit India overland access to Afghanistan.

India's energy requirements are expected to more than double by 2010 to around four million barrels per day (mbd) from 1.9 mbd at present. The country has been seeking alternative fuel sources in Central Asia through a combination of purchasing oil blocks, constructing pipelines and conducting barter trade.

India’s recent diplomatic thrust into Central Asia for its energy requirements and strategic positioning through bilateral visits by senior leaders, enhanced trade and understated military agreements with some of the republics has also been triggered by the region’s security realignments. — IANS

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