Central Asia and in particular Tajikistan is important in India’s foreign policy and this was reinforced by the visit of President Kovind to Dushanbe from 7-9 October 2018. India’s long historical links with Tajikistan got a new chapter since 1991 and the upgrading to a Strategic Partnership in 2012 reinforced the bilateral relations. Tajikistan’s strategic location next to Afghanistan and China makes it an important geopolitical partner for India in the region.

At the height of the Afghan conflict, India had invested in the Tajik air base at Farkhor that is close to the Afghan border and had restored it and created a hospital. Subsequently, the air base became fully operational in 2006 and India has stationed Mig fighters and training aircraft for the purpose of training the Tajik Air force. It is significant to note here that India is the 4 country along with US, Russia and Germany to have a military base in Central Asia.

The Eurasian region’s growing significance was also emphasised by the visit of Uzbekistan's President and Russian President Putin visits a week earlier to New Delhi.  As the Indian economy grows, its foreign policy seeks to enhance the presence and become a part of other global network. Central Asia with its energy resources is crucial to the regions geopolitics and geoeconomics, but being landlocked faces big challenges. At a time when connectivity is the new buzzword, this aspect ties in with India’s 2012 Connect Central Asia policy (CCAP), which has political, economic, security and cultural aspects and seeks to engage all the 5 Central Asian Republics(CAR). Tajikistan along with other CAR countries is part of the Indian led International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which is a multimodal network that seeks to link the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf with the Caspian Sea and further to Russia and subsequently to northern Europe. This ambitious Indian initiative is especially important in the light of the growing Chinese presence in the region through the Belt and Road Initiative.

Although Russia remains critical to region, it is China’s growing economic presence that is proving to be critical and transforming the Central Asian chessboard. In this context New Delhi’s steady engagement with the region and specific countries has brought it political dividends with Tajikistan supporting India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in June 2018. In the past, New Delhi has assisted Dushanbe in civil and military capacity building through the Indian Technical & Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme leading to training of Tajik personnel in India.

The nature of the political engagement between India and Tajikistan is evident through the institutionalisation of the relations. The two countries have four bilateral consultative mechanisms: Foreign Office Consultations, Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism, Joint Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, and Joint Working Group on Defence Cooperation.

President Kovind’s visit sought to give new direction and momentum to the India-Tajik relations. Addressing the connectivity issue is important to boost the bilateral trade that stood at US $ 42.33 million in 2016-17. Both countries signed eight MOUs in the fields of political relations, strategic research, agriculture, renewable energy, traditional medicine, space technology, youth affairs, culture and disaster management.  President Kovind also reiterated that “India and Tajikistan can promote the International North-South Transport Corridor and other connectivity initiatives such as the development of Chabahar Port and the Ashgabat Agreement for smooth transport of goods”.  In addition, India has offered a grant of $20 millionn to Tajikistan for development projects.

The growing geopolitical and geoeconomic significance of the Central Asian region calls for an enhanced engagement and dynamism by India. Tajikistan is central to the Connect Central Asia Policy and it is expected that the visit would further augment the relations and bring in new initiatives and ventures on both sides.