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India to station MiG-29 fighter-bombers at Tajikistan base
India’s first overseas military facility in Tajikistan is expected to become operational by the year-end as part of New Delhi’s thrust into oil-rich Central Asia to meet its growing energy needs.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is to deploy a fleet of MiG-29 fighter-bombers at the airbase at Aini, 15 km from the Tajikistan capital Dushanbe.
India’s quasi-military Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is currently constructing three hangars at Aini, two of which will accommodate the 12 aircraft the IAF will deploy for varying periods, official sources said.
The Tajikistan Air Force, whose personnel the IAF is training under an April 2002 defence cooperation agreement, will utilise the third hangar. For this purpose the IAF also plans to station trainer aircraft at Aini.
The IAF is also helping its Tajik counterpart to retrofit its Soviet-era fighters while Indian civilian and military personnel are teaching the Tajik servicemen English.
The Indian defence ministry declined to comment on the Tajik base. However, defence planners said the base would provide New Delhi with a “longer strategic reach” in Central Asia and help it secure badly needed oil contracts.
Military sources said the BRO, supervised by a contingent of Indian Army and IAF personnel, is expected to complete work at Aini by the Tajik National Day Sep 9.
The BRO took charge of the project earlier this year. This was after a New Delhi-based private builder who was allotted a $10 million contract in early 2003 to restore the airbase defaulted on completing the undertaking by end-2005. The base has been lying unused since mid-1980.
Senior military sources, preferring to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the project, said that a contingent of around 40 Indian Army and IAF personnel, including around six officers and commanded by an army colonel, were overseeing the air base’s refurbishment.
This includes restoring its runway, the aircraft taxiing track and parking apron, besides building accommodation for a “sizeable” Indian military contingent.
India’s initiative at Aini follows the establishment of its first military “outpost” in Tajikistan at Farkhor, adjoining the Tajik-Afghan border that is manned by a handful of defence “advisors” from New Delhi.
The “quietly functional” Farkhor base is an extension of the field hospital India established in the late 1990s to help the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Technicians from the IAF and India’s secretive Aviation Research Centre (ARC) serviced and repaired the Alliance’s Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters for several years, until the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.
The Research and Analysis Wing, India’s overseas intelligence-gathering agency, operates ARC.
India uses Farkhor principally to funnel economic and relief assistance it pledged to war-ravaged Afghanistan after 2001. Relief material is airlifted by the IAF to Aini, transported to Farkhor and into Afghanistan by road. India’s rival Pakistan does not permit it overland access to Afghanistan.
India has close political and diplomatic relations with Kabul and has provided President Hamid Karzai’s government extensive financial aid. Its efforts have been bolstered by Washington’s endorsement of New Delhi’s role in providing training and possibly even equipment to the Afghan army and police and in aiding Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
India’s energy requirements are expected to more than double by 2010 to around four million barrels per day (mbd) from 1.9 mbd at present. The country has been seeking alternative fuel sources in Central Asia through a combination of purchasing oil blocks, constructing pipelines and conducting barter trade.
India’s recent diplomatic thrust into Central Asia for its energy requirements and strategic positioning through bilateral visits by senior leaders, enhanced trade and understated military agreements with some of the republics has also been triggered by the region’s security realignments.
The ensuing conflict of interest in the area between India’s Cold War ally Russia and the US — its new found “strategic partner” — and China is also fuelling New Delhi’s “forward” Central Asian policy.
Says retired Brigadier Arun Sahgal, “Though India remains powerless to engineer or overtly influence the New Game, its size, military and nuclear capability make it a not altogether insignificant part of the emerging complex jigsaw.”
New Delhi vies with Moscow for control over Central Asia
Russia, which is gradually losing its presence in Central Asia, a traditional sphere of influence, now has only five Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jets at Tajikistan’s Aini airbase, 15 km from the capital, Dushanbe.
India plans to deploy 12 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum air-superiority fighters at the base. Technical personnel of the Indian Air Force have been modernizing this base, and building three hangars there since late 2005. Delhi has therefore made the first move in the Russian-Indian-Chinese regional geo-strategic game.
Aini, the first Indian base abroad, apparently highlights Delhi’s aim to become a regional superpower and to implement an independent military policy.
Indian and U.S. air forces have recently held exercises together, and Washington has lifted the arms embargo it had imposed after India’s nuclear tests. Delhi, which no longer relies on the purchase of Russian arms, can now defend its geopolitical interests more actively.
India would like to train its air force pilots at the Aini base, which is located conveniently near Pakistan’s northern borders. Delhi wants to displace potential rivals because many countries relying on Eurasian hydrocarbon imports view Central Asia as an area of strategic interest. The U.S., the European Union, China and Pakistan are all interested in regional oil, gas and iron-ore deposits. There are also plans to build oil pipelines there.
Russia and China to Purchase the US Foothold in Central Asia Ulugbek Djuraev, AIA Central Asian section Russian version
On April, 24 an official two-day visit of the president of Kyrgyzstan Êurmanbek Bakiyev to Russia has begun. The main themes of his negotiations in Moscow concern extension of contacts in the field of economy and regional security. Both directions of cooperation are closely connected with each other. Distinctive feature of Kyrgyzstan in the security system of Central Asia is the stationing in its territory of military bases of Russia and the United States. At the same time, Moscow and Beijing make no secret of their interest in the faster withdrawal of the American contingent from the republic. Ganci air base located here remains the only military US foothold in the Central Asia. The further destiny of the base depends on the readiness of Washington to comply with the requirement of Bishkek regarding the increase of payment for its use. This was announced by Êurmanbek Bakiyev five days prior to his arrival in Moscow. However the growth of the economic activity of Russia and China in Kyrgyzstan can fully compensate the refusal of financial receipts from America. Experience of the neighbouring Uzbekistan particularly eloquently testifies to it.
The Uzbek experience
From the middle of the 1990s Tashkent was considered the main partner of the Pentagon in the Central Asia. The special status of Uzbekistan was legally registered by spring of 2002 within the framework of the bilateral strategic union concluded for the period of 25 years. However as a result of rivalry of militaries and diplomats in the American leadership, and also efforts of the Saudi lobby, already in the end 2002 it had got apparently colder in the relationship between Washington and Tashkent. The final breaking-off between the former partners took place last year. After the events in Andizhan in May, the White House had subjected the regime of Islam Karymov to sharp criticism. As consequence, in November the Pentagon had to dismantle its base in Uzbekistan. Up to that, on a course of deterioration of relations with the United States, in 2003-2005 Tashkent had headed for rapproachement with Moscow and Beijing. Simultaneously Karymov began to pay growing attention to the development of contacts with the countries of the Far East and Southeast Asia. As a result, he appreciably managed to compensate economic and political losses from the breaking-off with America. From the point of view of the Uzbek market, China alone has managed in shortest terms to replace the United States.
According to official data of the US Department of State, between 1992 and 2002 on various state and private channels the Americans have invested in Uzbekistan USD 592.3 million; only during the last, the fourth visit of Karymov to Beijing (May, 2005) agreements on attraction of USD 1.5 billion of the Chinese investments to Uzbekistan have been concluded.
On this background it is indicative, that Bakiyev’s ultimatum regarding the American air base, has been voiced exactly one day prior to the session of the Kyrgyz-Russian commission on trade and economic cooperation in Bishkek. Strengthening of ties in the given area are also featuring among the main themes of Bakiyev’s negotiations in Moscow. Moreover, the Kremlin is in a condition to guarantee to the Kyrgyz president the thing that the White House is unable to promise. It is a matter of the joint Russian-Chinese support in the sphere of domestic and Central-Asian policy, and also in security issues. In a view of the activization of opposition in Kyrgyzstan in April, the given aspect is seeming now to be the most important for Bakiyev. He also has counted on it, putting forward the ultimatum to Washington, five days prior to his visit to Moscow, and one week prior to a meeting of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation defence ministers in Beijing.
The Great Game
Orientation of Kyrgyzstan to the Russian-Chinese strategic alliance is dictated by a number of factors of the Kyrgyz home and regional policy. Anything but important value has the traditional gravitation of Bishkek to Moscow. The Kyrgyz differently from other peoples of the Central Asia (even Kazakhs) go easier on the former mother country. One may feel this at a level of national mentality and historical memory of the people, as it is Russia whom the Kyrgyz, in fact, oblige their statehood to. Besides, many members of the Kyrgyz leadership are the representatives of the Soviet-period nomenclature of the republic.
For example, president Bakiyev himself has received his education in Russia and in the same place has got acquainted with his Russian wife. Having returned home, he has occupied a visible position in the society owing to the Soviet party and administrative system, that subsequently has provided to him a place in the political elite of the independent Kyrgyzstan. All this, certainly, has affected Bakiyev’s foreign policy guidelines during his work as the prime minister and the president. But not only the Kyrgyz soft nothings to the Russians and personal preferences of today’s leaders of the republic have defined its adherence to the Russian-Chinese alliance. The “geographical” factor has also had some perceptible influence. Kyrgyzstan, being clamped, from the East and the West between China and Uzbekistan, has to reckon with their position in the issues of geopolitics. Specifically, the both neighbours use their palpable influence on the Kyrgyz economy, and the Uzbeks also make the second largest ethnic group in the republic after the Kyrgyz. At the same time, the most important role in the modelling of the present course of Bishkek, has played rivalry of the great powers for influence in the Central Asia. The contemporary stage of The Great Game has begun in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
More and less precise configuration of external forces in the region was defined by the middle of the last decade. Russia passively enough trying to keep the rests of its influence in the Central Asia, preferred military-political methods (for what the unstable situation in Tajikistan and Afghanistan was widely used). China considered its neighbours in the Central Asia first of all as one of commodity markets for its own fine goods and transit point in trade with the Middle East and Europe. The western powers, especially the United States, in the long term estimated the Central Asia from the point of view of the policy of diversification of sources of energy supply. This put their regional diplomacy in dependence on global projects of transportation of oil and gas, and accordingly on situation in Afghanistan, Iran and Azerbaijan.
At the same time Turkey being the strategic partner of the United States, has developed independent activity in the region. Representatives of Ankara emphasized the cultural and ethnic togetherness with Turkic peoples of the region, in parallel trying to take a leading position in the local market. Iran originally cherished great hopes about promulgation of its religious and political influence to the northeast direction. However in due course it had to confine itself to special attitudes with the “congerial” (ethnically and cultural) Tajikistan.
Saudi Arabia has aimed to become the spiritual leader of the moslems of the Central Asia. From submission of its own Uzbek community, the Saudis paid paramount attention to Uzbeks, by virtue of their large number and historical adherence to an Islam. Riyadh privately leaned on support of Islamabad and of some the radical Islamic organizations. The most part of the 1990s Saudi Arabia, by tradition of the Soviet period, positioned itself in the Central-Asian region as the strategic ally of the West.
With the second half of the 1990s formation of geopolitic alliances in the policy of the Central Asia. Activization of the radical Islam promoted development of cooperation between Russia and China, and also with the countries of the region. In parallel Russia and Iran have established interaction on the Tajik-Afghani direction. At the same time Moscow, Beijing and Teheran were united with the general fears about the western influence in the Central Asia. Accordingly, the Great Britain, Turkey and partly Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, despite of their political contradictions and commercial competition, operated under aegis of the United States. It was promoted by a community of interests of the majority of these countries in the Middle East and in Afghanistan. The Central-Asian republics were unequivocally guided by one of two geopolitic blocks, or tried to manoeuvre between them. Kazakhstan by virtue of historical tradition, large number of the slavic population, and close economic relations with the northern neighbour, gravitated to Russia. Uzbekistan became a strategic ally of the United States. Kyrgyzstan manoeuvred between all players. Tajikistan has received protection of Russia and Iran. Turkmenistan, possessing huge reserves of power resources, has considered possible to declare neutrality and to dictate its own conditions to any external economic partners. The geopolitical situation in the region started to change in 1998-2000 under the influence of Islamic radicals. Directly it was influenced by the explosions of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (August 1998), acts of terror in Uzbekistan (February and November 1999), and also the large-scale attacks of Islamites in Kyrgyzstan (August-October 1999; August 2000) and Uzbekistan (August 2000).
In consequence of the acts of terror in Africa, the regional partnership of the USA and Saudi Arabia has been broken, and subsequently (after September 11, 2001) Riyadh has finally headed for conducting independent policy in the Central Asia. Actions of local terrorists have accelerated formation of a regional alliance under aegis of Russia and China. It has been legally registered in June, 2001 with creation of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation into which have entered China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Acts of terrorism on September 11 and the following operation of NATO in Afghanistan, have even more strongly changed the situation in the Central Asia. In the end of 2001 military bases of the USA have been created in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. It has provoked activization of regional policy of Beijing and Moscow. Russia, and especially China, have regarded occurrence here of the American militaries, as a threat to its national interests. As a result, strategy of theses states on the Central-Asian direction has been essentially reconsidered. Henceforth a special attention was given by them to distribution of economic influence on the countries of the region, and also coordination within the framework of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation. Thus, Moscow and Pekin expected “to strongly adhere” to itself the local elites with an aim to finally squeeze out the Americans from the Central Asia.
Efforts of Russia and China directed on undermining of the regional positions of the United States were supported by Iran and Turkey. Considering in the future an opportunity of a conflict with Washington, Teheran similarly to Pekin, has regarded the American military presence in the Central Asia as a threat of its own national security. Turkey has adjoined this camp, due to the change of power by autumn of 2002, disagreements with the US regarding the Iraq campaign and revision of its foreign policy priorities (refusal of a strategic alliance with Israel and America in favour of integration into the EU and rapproachement with Russia, Syria and Iran).
The formed antiwestern block was appreciably accompanied by the Americans themselves, having made two bad mistakes. In the beginning of 2005 they have supported the Kyrgyz opposition, its leaders being only covered with the pro-western slogans, were Moscow-guided in a greater degree than the overthrown president Akayev. Further, after the May events in Andizhan, instead of continuation of constructive dialogue with Uzbekistan (although it was also a rather critical one), the United States have gone with it on the open confrontation (that became a result of internal contradictions between diplomats and militaries, and also thanks to the influence of the Saudi lobby in the American establishment). Washington has lost its main strategic partner in the Central Asia, and Tashkent became an active participant of the antiwestern block.
If after September 11 America has managed to aloud strengthen its positions in the Central Asia, now all the countries of the region are obviously gravitating to Moscow and Beijing. Thus, the leadership change in Bishkek and break of Tashkent with Washington have predetermined the destiny of the US military presence in the Central Asia. In Uzbekistan the base of the Pentagon has been dismantled in November 2005. In Kyrgyzstan, president Bakiyev has refused his predecessor’s policy of manoeuvering, unequivocally having selected protection of Russia and China. Thus, Uzbekistan has a set of economic and political levers of pressure upon Kyrgyzstan, in connection with that Bishkek has to reckon seriously with the position of Tashkent, including in the issue of foreign military presence.
Defeat of Washington
If the internal political situation in Kyrgyzstan will not change fundamentally, it is most likely that within the nearest two years the Pentagon should take out its servicemen also from here. Such development of events will mean actually the final defeat of the US at the given stage of The Great Game. It will inevitably trigger off a round of negative consequences for the Washington’s policy in Asia, in particular on the Afghani and Iranian directions.
First, Iran, Pakistan and India have an intention to become in the near future full members of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation (for the present they have only the status of observers there). As consequence, Afghanistan governed by the pro-American regime of Hamid Karzai, will get enclosed by the states of the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation. It will inevitably be reflected in the balance of forces of the Afghani leadership between a part of the Pushtu elite focused on the West, and national minorities, supported by regional rivals of America and their allies (Uzbeks – Uzbekistan and Turkey; Tajik – Tajikistan, Iran and Russia; Khazars – Iran and China).
Secondly, the final defeat of the US in the Central Asia will provide to Teheran reliable rears in northeast, in case of the American-Iranian conflict. Yet before its has begun, it will allow the Islamic republic to make room for the forces of diplomatic department and special services, in particular on the South-Caucasian direction. To fundamentally change the situation in Kyrgyzstan in favour of the US is already almost impossible. The stakes on Baliyev’s opponents would demand much more monies than has been contributed to the organization of last year’s revolution. Besides the support of change of power should be interfaced to the development of the US long-term strategy regarding this republic and calculated for the period before and after the overthrow of Bakiyev.
However even in that case the new regime would hardly turn out to be of great vitality. First, it immediately will collide with a great number of the accumulated social and economic problems. Its position will also be complicated by the sharp polarization of the society, in many respects aggravated in the result of the events of the last one and a half years (division into political groupings, regional clans and elites, indigenous population and national minorities, etc.).
Secondly, China, Russia and Uzbekistan, possessing perceptible influence in Kyrgyzstan, will put a maximum of efforts to finish with a pro-American regime. The analysis of the post-Soviet policy of Washington in the Central Asia leads to a conclusion that it is not capable of realization of such an expensive and long-term project.