Tweets by Indian officials showing the Indian-Tajikistan military hospital near the border of Afghanistan. (photos: twitter)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has wrapped up his ambitious post-Soviet trip with a stop in Tajikistan and the joint Indian-Tajikistan hospital near the border with Afghanistan. "This is the last stop on my visit to the five Central Asian countries," Modi said in Dushanbe. "But, we sometimes save the special one for the last."
Tajikistan isn't quite as special to India as it was a few years ago, when Delhi spent tens of millions of dollars to renovate the Ayni air base with the evident aim of establishing it was India's first Central Asian military outpost. Those hopes were dashed -- most likely by Russia -- at least five years ago (Ayni is almost never publicly discussed, and so developments tend to become known to the public with a significant delay).
But some in Delhi seem to still hold on to hope, and the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail reported ahead of Modi's visit that Ayni would be on the agenda. "[Indian] Government sources told Mail Today that use of the Ayni airbase for the Indian Air Force, tops the agenda," the paper reported. “'Getting a foreign airbase, particularly in Central Asia is a significant development. But in this case, two other countries, Tajikistan and Russia, have to agree,' former Air Chief Marshal PV Naik told Mail Today."
That was denied by a Tajikistan government source to the Dushanbe newspaper Asia Plus. "The issue of the Ayni air base is not going to be discussed," the source said, adding that it was possible Modi would still visit the base. It doesn't appear that he did make such a visit, and Ayni was not mentioned in any of the official statements from the visit.
He did, however, visit the newly built military hospital at Farkhor on July 13, and issued several tweets with photos of the facility. "At the India-Tajikistan Field Hospital, a symbol of our enduring friendship," he tweeted. "At the Field Hospital, functional since November 2014, close to 20000 patients have been treated in the OPD," added Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup.
During his tour Modi visited all five Central Asian states, and also stopped in Russia for the summits of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the BRICS organization. In all of the Central Asian stops he signed agreements with undetailed security cooperaton components. Only in Kyrgyzstan was there any sort of military news broken, with the two sides announcing that they will hold annual joint military exercises. (The first such exercises took place this spring.) There, Modi also visited an Indian military health facility, the Kyrgyz-India Mountain Bio-Medical Research Centre.
The bulk of Modi's Central Asia tour was devoted to more economic matters, with military/security ties getting substantially less attention. But it also stands to reason that with the region occupying a greater place in India's geopolitical imagination, that further military cooperation is likely to come.