You are here

Pratibha Patil’s Visit to Tajikistan: Enhancing goodwill, trust and mutual confidence

Meena Singh Roy is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • September 23, 2009

    Pratibha Patil’s three-day visit to Tajikistan (September 6 to 8, 2009) was the first ever visit by an Indian President to the Central Asian region. She attended the National Day celebrations of Tajikistan as the Guest of Honour. President Patil held talks with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon on a wide range of issues, including efforts to tackle terrorism, bilateral relations, and developments in and around the region aimed at consolidating ties between the two countries in the political, economic and other spheres. Patil also held meetings with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Defence Minister of Tajikistan, and interacted with the Chairman and Members of the Lower House of the Tajik Parliament.

    What does this visit mean for India-Tajikistan relations and India’s policy towards the Central Asian region in general? Does it mean that the Central Asian region figures very high in New Delhi’s foreign policy priorities or is it an effort to enhance cooperation with Tajikistan which occupies a significant place in India’s policy towards this region? A pragmatic analysis of India’s policy towards Central Asia shows that the region is viewed as strategically important and as an extended neighbourhood of India. Though India has maintained good relations with all the five republics since their independence in 1991, its policy towards the region has been much more focused and coherent since 2001.

    Tajikistan’s Strategic Importance

    Tajikistan’s strategic location has made it an important area of big power rivalry and competition. Post-2001, it has become a playground for major powers - Russia, United States and China. Russia has a military base and continues to enhance its engagement, while China’s economic engagement in the country has been steadily rising. China provided Tajikistan a preferential loan of US $608 million under the SCO framework in 2006. This was used mainly in infrastructure development and road construction. In total, China has invested around $1billion since 2005 in the country. China is also Tajikistan’s main partner in developing its hydropower sector. There are plans to build several hydro and thermal power plants with Chinese participation. Some 80 Chinese companies have been recorded as operating in Tajikistan in 2008. Tajikistan’s role in Afghanistan is critical for the US and NATO forces that are fighting the Taliban. Its strategic relevance for the US is immense.

    Tajikistan’s importance for India lies in its geo-strategic location. It shares borders with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and China, and is located in proximity to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Tajikistan can play an important role in maintaining peace along Afghanistan’s northern borders as well as in fighting jihadis and drug traffickers. The infiltration of extremist forces into Tajikistan can have serious security implications for India because of its proximity to PoK.

    Issues of Bilateral Interests: Terrorism and Extremism

    Although no bilateral official document was signed during Patil’s visit, the significance of her visit lies in India’s effort to accord a more prominent position to Tajikistan in its foreign policy priorities. The visit is indicative of Tajikistan’s critical importance for India and the importance of enhancing mutual goodwill, trust and confidence. India and Tajikistan have maintained the tradition of close political understanding and mutual cooperation. Terrorism and extremism is a common threat faced by both countries. In the past, they have, along with Russia and Iran, worked together against the Taliban. There is already a Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism between India and Tajikistan. In 2006, during President Emomali Rahmonov’s visit to India, four bilateral pacts were signed to fight global terrorism and enhancing cooperation in the fields of science, technology and energy.

    Speaking on the issue of terrorism, President Patil sought the support of Central Asian nations in eliminating terrorism from the region. She said, “Our region is today beset by the menace of terrorism. Terrorism, extremism and fundamentalism are posing serious threat to the peace and security in our region, be it India, Afghanistan or Tajikistan.” While noting that the Mumbai attacks were one more manifestation of terrorism, she pointed out that all governments in the region need to take “urgent proactive measures to cooperate and eliminate terrorism in all its form and manifestations, so that there forces do not derail the processes of progress and prosperity.”

    Hydroelectric Power

    Hydroelectric power was another important issue discussed during President Patil’s visit. Tajikistan does not have hydrocarbon resources but it has hydroelectric power. The country is the second largest producer of hydroelectricity in the Commonwealth of Independent States, after Russia. Its potential, according to official figures, is about 40,000 MW, i.e., around four per cent of the world hydroelectric potential. The official report “Tajikistan’s National Strategy for Energy Sector Development 2006-2015” had noted that the country is likely to reach a production of 26 billion KWH in 2010, and 35 billion in 2015. But Tajikistan produces only 17 billion KWH per year and has to import energy from Uzbekistan. It needs greater investments in this sector. Russia, Iran and China are involved in Tajikistan’s hydroelectric sector. India is providing help for the Varzob-I Hydro-Power Station. During Patil’s visit, cooperation in hydro power was discussed between the two Presidents. The progress of Varzob-I Hydro-Power Station, being upgraded by Indian companies National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) and BHEL, was reviewed. India’s involvement in this sector needs to be enhanced as this will be mutually beneficial for both countries.

    In addition to hydroelectric power, Tajikistan also has deposits of more than 40 semi-precious stones, gold and silver. India can set up, in cooperation with Tajikistan, a jewellery complex with a network of branches in mountain areas of the country. Such involvement will not only help India make its presence felt in a country of great significance but also contribute to its economic development.

    Enhancing Bilateral Cooperation

    In addition, India and Tajikistan have a number of commonalties that make a closer relationship likely. At the political level they have maintained extremely good relations. President Patil’s visit to the Mausoleum of the Sufi Saint Sayyid Ali Hamadani in Kulyab was yet another step towards strengthening the close historical and civilizational links between Tajikistan and Kashmir. The Iranian Sufi Saint Hamadani moved to Kashmir in 1314 with his 700 followers and during his stay had greatly influenced the religious, social and cultural aspects of Kashmiri society. The Shah-e- Hamadan mosque in Srinagar attracts thousands of people even today to commemorate the Saint’s death anniversary. This visit needs to be seen in the context of enhancing India’s goodwill in Tajikistan.

    Both countries share close defence and security relations as well. India has upgraded the Ayni airport near Dushanbe, which is fully operational now. There is ongoing cooperation in the defence sector, with India providing training to Tajik forces. Tajikistan is one of the largest beneficiaries of India’s ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme. Over the years India has provided training and participation for candidates from Tajikistan in a number of human resource development programmes in various fields.

    However, compared to India’s strong political and security ties, its economic relations with Tajikistan remain unsatisfactory. Tajik-India trade relations accounted for $15.50 million during 2006-07 and $22.11 million during 2007-08. Among the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan remains India’s main trading partner. Total trade with Kazakhstan was $171 million in 2006-07 and $188.74 million in 2007-08. President Patil expressed dissatisfaction over the low level of trade between India and Tajikistan. Both Presidents said that there was immense potential to enhance economic cooperation and increase trade volumes. President Patil noted that “The Central Asian region figures very high in our foreign policy priorities. We would like our bilateral relations with Tajikistan to be truly multi-faceted and cover wide ranging areas from cooperation in the field of education and culture to investment and enhanced business transactions. We would like our bilateral relations to address the contemporary and crucial issues of energy, food and regional security.”

    While one hopes that President Patil’s current visit will have far reaching ramifications in taking the existing political relations to new heights and enhancing goodwill, trust and mutual confidence, India will have to formulate new mechanisms to enhance its economic engagement with Tajikistan, which is geographically closer to New Delhi than some of its own cities and geo-strategically important for India’s security.