New Delhi, June 8:The
Indian Air Force risks getting squeezed out of a base in Tajikistan
that promised to be India’s only overseas military facility from which
it could keep tabs on Pakistani and Chinese activities, including those
on the Siachen glacier.
defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma heads to Islamabad for talks on
Monday and Tuesday on Pakistan’s proposal for a mutual troops pullback
from the glacier, the possible
loss of access to the Ayni/Farkhor airbase that India helped rebuild is
casting a shadow on New Delhi’s political and diplomatic intent.
northwest of the Saltoro Ridge that flanks the Siachen glacier, it
would have afforded the Indian military the superb advantage of watching
aerially Pakistani troops from behind their lines.
a political inclination at the government’s highest level to achieve a
takeaway from the Indo-Pak talks that may pave the way for the Prime
Minister to visit Pakistan, New Delhi has almost shut out the
possibility of finding Manmohan Singh his “peace mountain” in Siachen.
do not want to talk about it publicly right now because the defence
secretary is going there in two days. Our stand will be known there (in
Islamabad). Don’t expect any dramatic announcement or decision there,”
defence minister A.K. Antony said today, almost repeating what he had
told Parliament last month.
Indian position on Siachen is unchanged despite Pakistan’s formal
request on April 8, a day after an avalanche buried an estimated 135 of
its troops in Gyari. India says Pakistan will first have to
“authenticate” the Actual Ground Position Line for a review of the
position to be even considered. Pakistan has said it wants the glacier
fact is that Pakistani troops are not on the glacier but largely on the
slopes of the Saltoro Ridge on the northern and western flanks of the
glacier. Indian troops occupy the commanding heights on the ridge from
14,000ft to 22,000ft.
Indian Army says that unless Pakistan acknowledges this by
authenticating the Actual Ground Position Line, there is no question of
vacating the posts.
Islamabad has sold its people a lie — that its troops are on the
glacier. Even after authentication, India will want to verify that the
Pakistani troops are not occupying positions that Indian troops vacate.
This is where Farkhor/Ayni would have presented a vantage point.
had a military hospital in Farkhor, Tajikistan, that cared for the
fighters of the Northern Alliance till 2001, by when the Taliban had
overrun Afghanistan. Farkhor’s location, close to the borders with
Afghanistan, Pakistan (PoK) and China, makes it a listening post and
watchtower for which major powers are vying.
October, Antony was greeted warmly with traditional honey and bread
during an unscheduled stop in Dushanbe by his Tajik counterpart, Colonel
General Sherali Khairyulleov. India has always kept its connection to
Farkhor/Ayni, just northwest of Dushanbe, low profile, never officially
admitting its role in revamping the Soviet-era airbase.
the Indian government spent more than Rs 350 crore in hard currency and
posted a detachment of the army’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to
re-do the base. The BRO extended the runway for it to be operational for
fighter jets, built a perimeter fence and three hangars. It was a
strategic investment in the hope that Tajikistan would give India an
But now the honey isn’t sweet enough.
Tajikistan and Russia were working to operate the base jointly. But
Tajikistan, seen by China as its western gateway to Central Asia, has
been under diplomatic pressure from its neighbours to stave off an
intimate military engagement with India. Russia, too, has been wary of
India’s foreign military footprint, largely because Moscow suspects that
New Delhi is increasingly inclining westwards for its defence hardware.
addition, the US, keen to open more supply lines into Afghanistan, is
now understood to have evinced interest in using Ayni/Farkhor. For the
Indian Air Force and the Indian military, the basing of helicopters and
fighter jets in Farkhor was seen as a strategic decision.