Afghanistan was the focus of the high-level talks held between India and Tajikistan, but the host country shied away from the Ayni air base issue, says Sheela Bhatt.
Foreign Minister S M Krishna, who is on a two-day visit to Tajikistan, and his counterpart Hamrokhon Zarifi discussed issues of mutual interest such as Afghanistan, with which Tajikistan shares over 1,400 km of border.
In the talks that were extended by a day, both sides finalised the September visit of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to New Delhi.
While talking to the media, an Indian ministry official said that Zarifi told Krishna about what his country is doing to improve bilateral co-operation with Afghanistan. Both sides discussed the mutual perception of the region and the 'ethnic issue'.
Zarifi also talked about India and Tajikistan's old cultural ties. Tajikistan is looking forward to India's help in developing the hydropower sector. The Tajik side told India that hydropower, road building and communications are three sectors where Tajiks are talking with their Afghan counterparts.
India can help in providing logistical and technical support in the region in these three sectors.
Both sides also discussed United Nations reforms and the ways to co-operate in global issues.
Krishna also talked about counter-terrorism mechanism. Both sides are committed to enhance the counterterrorism measures to improve security.
In an interesting business development, both sides discussed about the possibility of mining gold and silver in Tajikistan.
The Ayni air base issue has remained under shadow, and on Monday, the Tajik foreign minister avoided talking about it. India, in an exceptional event, has built the air base near Dushanbe at a cost of $70 million.
More than 150 India Air Force pilots were brought to Dushanbe to execute the project. It was completed two years ago. In fact, few staffers of Indian Air force have stayed back to look after the logistics.
This is a rare case where Indian defence forces are present outside the country without a UN cover. But, both sides are playing it down.
On one hand, Tajikistan is taking care of Pakistan's sensitivities, and on the other hand, the Russians are pressing Tajiks to let them have the air base where they would like to park their Sukhoi fighters. Tajikistan has not taken the final decision on it.
Meanwhile, India's low-key and silent presence remains at Ayni without any fighter jets.
Tajikistan is unable to say 'no' to Russia; the power that dominates the region, and is not saying 'yes' to India to use Ayni air base to kick start its plans in the central Asian region.