Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Dec 20, 2016
In his press statement, Prime Minister Modi said that Tajikistan is a valued friend and strategic partner in Asia.
Tajikistan President visits India; gives big impetus to bilateral ties For the sixth time, the President of Tajikistan, Mr. Emomali Rahmon, paid a state visit to India — from 14 to 18 December this year. He had visited India in 1995, 1999, 2001, 2006 and 2012. It was during his last visit to India that the bilateral relationship was upgraded to the level of strategic partnership. Indian prime ministers have visited Tajikistan twice since its independence in 1991:the first time by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 and the second by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, again from the NDA, on 12 and 13 July 2015. President Pratibha Devisinh Patil paid a state visit to Tajikistan in 2009 and Vice President Hamid Ansari went to Tajikistan in 2013. Although all visits at high level are significant and important in providing an impetus to bilateral relations, it needs to be recognised that visits by Indian prime ministers are particularly momentous and instrumental in substantively upgrading bilateral ties. Tours by presidents and vice presidents are seen more as protocol and formal visits to promote cultural and people-to-people linkages. As such, the fact that only two prime ministerial visits from India have taken place over twenty five years to a country which we call a part of our extended neighbourhood and whose security and stability is inextricably linked to peace and tranquility in India is evidence that we have failed to accord the necessary importance and priority to our partnership with this country and the region. Moreover, decisions on major collaborative ventures and projects are usually taken in Central Asian countries at the highest level of the president and not at ministerial level or even that of the prime minister. It is in this context that the visit by PM Modi to Tajikistan and to other Central Asian republics last year sent out a clear message to these countries, the region as well as the world that India is serious in expanding its multifaceted ties in political, security, strategic, defence, economic, culture and people-to-people contacts with this region. It is heartening to note that President Rahmon has decided to pay a return visit to India within seventeen months of the visit by PM Modi. Read | India-Central Asia relations: Expanding vistas of partnership Tajikistan is the third country out of the five in Central Asia with which India has enhanced its level of engagement to strategic partnership level, the other two being Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. While both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are large countries in territorial area, population,GDP and richly endowed with mineral resources like oil, gas, uranium, cotton and others, Tajikistan is not endowed with any of these attributes except that it is blessed with large quantities of fresh water reserves accounting for sixty percent of the total water supply of Central Asia. What makes Tajikistan particularly significant and attractive for India is its critical geographical location on the northern tip of Afghanistan. More than thirty percent of the thirty million plus population of Afghanistan is of Tajik origin. Past experience of the civil war in the early nineties in Tajikistan has demonstrated that peace and tranquility in Tajikistan is inextricably linked with security and stability in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan is the third country out of the five in Central Asia with which India has enhanced its level of engagement to strategic partnership level, the other two being Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Risk and danger of violence in Afghanistan and Central Asian states is closely intertwined. This threat has been rising as Taliban's strength has been increasing with growing support from the Pakistan army and its spy agency the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Tajikistan, with its 1344 km long border with Afghanistan, is particularly vulnerable to rise of militant and terrorist activities in Afghanistan. Stability and security in Afghanistan is closely linked to peace and stability in India. Our experience of the hijack of the Indian Airlines aircraft from Kathmandu to Kandahar in south Afghanistan via Amritsar in 1999 has starkly brought this home to us. Maintaining strong and close ties particularly in the area of confronting terrorism through cooperation in intelligence exchange, military training, defence cooperation, controlling terror financing etc is particularly significant. It is for this reason that one of the most significant agreements signed by Prime Minister Modi after his talks with President Rahmon was on combating and fighting against terrorism. Another agreement was on a related issue of money laundering and terror financing. A third agreement was on avoidance of double taxation to promote economic and business exchanges. Announcement was made during the visit that a Bilateral Investment Treaty to enhance bilateral economic partnership was also initiated. President Rahmon extended support to India's membership of the UN Security Council as well as to its imminent membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. India's membership of SCO will go a long way in strengthening our collaboration and partnership with the Central Asian Republics as it will provide an opportunity to Indian prime ministers in the coming years to regularly meet the presidents of Central Asian Republics (CARs) on an annual basis at the SCO summits. This will provide a significant impetus to our bilateral ties with CARs as also promote regional cooperation and give an opportunity to India to play a mutually beneficial and helpful role in development of this region. President Rahmon warmly welcomed the initiatives taken by India with respect to fast-tracking the operationalisation of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) through Iran to Central Asia and Russia and development of Chabahar port and its hinterland to connect it to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India's accession to the Ashgabat agreement will also facilitate and promote connectivity between India and Central Asia including Tajikistan.

India and Tajikistan have maintained close and vibrant links through the ages. There have been strong cultural, civilisational, linguistic, art, customs and people-to-people ties between the two countries.

During the Soviet period also both countries maintained vigorous contacts with each other. It was decided during the visit to enhance the direct air connectivity between the two capitals to promote tourism and business cooperation. Lack of connectivity between the two countries has surfaced as a huge obstacle in strengthening ties as Pakistan does not permit movement of peoples and cargo through its territory. Security and defence cooperation have emerged as a significant area of cooperation. At the request of Tajikistan, India has upgraded and refurbished the air base at Ayni in Tajikistan. India has expressed its readiness to further expand its collaboration with Tajikistan in this vital sector. Bilateral trade between the two countries is in the range of USD 55 to 60 million which is much below potential. Trade is hampered by the circuitous route for transportation of goods (India to Bandar Abbas by sea route, from Bandar Abbas via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan by land) since Pakistan does not permit direct access to Tajikistan from India and vice versa. Trade is heavily weighted in India's favour. India has provided assistance in rehabilitating and renovating the Varzob-1 hydropower station and constructing several others in the field of pharmaceuticals, textiles, agro processing, computer labs, an IT center, e-networks, tele medicine, etc. Some private sector companies have contributed significantly to infrastructure creation like transmission lines in the country. A number of areas like information technology, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, capacity building, heath care, training, education and culture were identified for focused attention in promoting cooperation between the two sides. Tajikistan is richly endowed with hydro power resources. Both sides agreed to expand partnership in this promising sector. In his press statement, Prime Minister Modi said that Tajikistan is a valued friend and strategic partner in Asia. He asserted that both the countries face multiple security challenges in their extended neighborhood and have decided to strengthen cooperation for addressing the issue of terrorism and radicalism. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the radio and TV company of Tajikistan with Prasar Bharati, India for cooperation on Broadcasting and Exchange of Audio Visual Programmes. President Rahmon's visit has provided a significant impetus to bilateral ties. Both sides need to maintain this momentum and continue to expand their multifaceted cooperation to reach the optimal level of partnership.
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Ashok Sajjanhar

Ashok Sajjanhar

Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar has worked for the Indian Foreign Service for over three decades. He was the ambassador of India to Kazakhstan Sweden and Latvia ...

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