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Tajik Silk Route to bypass Pakistan

Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Nov. 14: A day may come when trade from India would flow through the seas to the Iranian port of Chabahar and then take a modern highway straight through Afghanistan to Tajikistan. The obduracy of Pakistan as a route to central Asian markets be damned.

To make this dream a reality, India and Tajikistan have embarked on building a road linking the two countries. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Emomali Sharifovcih Rakhmanov today announced the setting up of a joint working group to go into the details of the highway project.

This shorter and new Silk Route to Central Asia is part of an attempt by India and Tajikistan to strengthen their traditional economic and cultural ties.

The Indian Prime Minister’s first official visit here saw Delhi announcing an aid package of $40 million for Tajikistan, setting up a joint working group on counter-terrorism, signing an extradition treaty and vowing to strengthen military ties. India has agreed to offer infrastructural assistance to the Military Training College at Dushanbe and institutionalise the contact between the armed forces of the two countries.

Setting at rest press speculation, Vajpayee and Rakhmanov denied that India was building an airbase at Ayni aerodrome outside Dushanbe. Rakhmanov rejected the suggestion that the Ayni airport was to become an Indian military base in response to a question from a Russian journalist. “We know a lot of people are interested and where the question has come from,” he told her.

Rakhmanov rebuked Russia and others who refused to help Tajikistan in building an alternative airport outside its capital Dushanbe. The airport was damaged during the civil war in the wake of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the formation of Tajikistan.

India’s assistance, he said, was offered when no one else came forward with any workable proposal.

“The existence of the Ayni airport is not a secret. It was a Soviet military airbase and has fallen into disrepair. When the Soviet forces left after the end of the Cold War, in the ensuing civil war the airport was in disrepair and could not be used,” he said.

The Tajik President said that repairs were now going on at the Ayni airport with Indian help. “So that is the story which you could write about without any distortion,” he told the Russian journalist who had asked him about an Indian “military base” in Tajikistan.

Rakhmanov was also more than happy to talk about military ties with India. He said that the military co-operation agreement between the two countries was of great significance to the Tajiks. Tajik army officers already receive training in Indian defence institutions.

“In the future also, we would continue to build on our military co-operation beginning with training. The Tajikistan army needs training assistance in specialised areas as, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, we got nothing in our share,” the Tajikistan President said.

President Rakhmanov made it clear that Tajikistan, which has been playing a key role in the security and stability of Central Asia and Afghanistan, saw in India a strategic ally in attempting to stabilise the region. The exemplary identity of interest between the two countries was first witnessed in recent times when both assisted the Northern Alliance to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan was described by President Rakhmanov as the “frontline” shield protecting Central Asia, Russia and Europe from terrorism and illegal drug trafficking from Afghanistan. “We have experienced terrorism. We do not know it only from hearsay,” Rakhmanov said.

The President said he was the first one to draw international attention to the terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan and had argued for a “security belt” around that country. “Unfortunately, many political leaders including those in Central Asia, underestimated the terrorist danger to their own countries. So it appears that the international community needed 9/11,” he remarked wryly.

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