Dushanbe: With the US troop drawdown from Afghanistan nearing, India is pushing with a `Connect Central Asia Policy` to engage nations neighbouring the war-torn country and seek greater alignment with them.
SM Krishna, the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit the strategically located Tajikistan in nine years, held extensive talks with his counterpart Hamrokhon Zarifi, centered on building up communications, energy cooperation and counter-terrorism.
Afghanistan and the need to invest in its stable future emerged as a strong point of concord between India and Tajikistan, as New Delhi moves to seek greater engagement with Central Asian countries.
Tajikistan, a neighbour of Afghanistan, has historically been on the same side of the Afghan conflict as India, and Krishna discussed the situation in the war-torn country with Zarifi during his bilateral visit here.
As the time of a drawdown of international forces nears in Afghanistan, both India and Tajikistan agreed on the need to secure stability in the country, that has been torn apart by over a decade of strife.
"There was a long discussion about Afghanistan. They agreed that without a stable Afghanistan, the region cannot be stable," officials said yesterday, adding that the minister also briefed Zarifi about recent Afghan Investment Summit held in New Delhi.
They said the two leaders discussed several issues from economy to trade and investment in hydropower sector.
Tajikistan is rich in natural resources like hydropower which are estimated at the level of 527 billion kWth, but only 3 per cent of this potential is being used.
India plans to build strong political relations with Central Asian countries through the exchange of high level visits and strengthen strategic and security cooperation including counter-terror cooperation with them. Krishna`s visit is just a step in that direction, officials said.
The minister`s tour also assumes significance as the strategically-located Tajikistan shares borders with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China. Also, a narrow strip of land separates it from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
The ties between India and Tajikistan deepened in the late 1990s, when they came closer following rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The ties have grown stronger since 2002, especially on counter-terrorism and defence co-operation.
The two countries have a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism in place. Tajikistan, which shares over 1,400 km border with Afghanistan, faces threat from Taliban- linked terror groups like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Following his talks with Zarifi, Krishna described India`s relationship with Tajikistan as "excellent" as the two leaders discussed bilateral issues like trade, energy and counter-terrorism besides situation in the region.
Krishna`s visit to Dushanbe, first by any Indian External Affairs Minister in nine years, is part of India`s `Connect Central Asia Policy` to tap the natural resources-rich region.
He met his Tajik counterpart for 40-minutes during which they discussed cooperation in energy sector, economy and counter-terrorism besides other issues of mutual interest and on the situation in the region especially Afghanistan, officials said.
"India and Tajikistan have an excellent relationship, a very cordial one. This year we will be completing 20 years of diplomatic relations with the Tajikistan," Krishna told reporters alongside his Tajik counterpart Zarifi.
"We discussed bilateral issues and regional development and we also discussed the world`s financial situation which is deteriorating every day and the possible impact it has on other countries. This is of great interest to both of our countries," Krishna said.
Krishna said India is looking forward to the visit of Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon in September, adding that this will cement already excellent bilateral ties.
India is also in talks with Tajikistan to set up a military hospital even as it maintains an airbase in Ayni there, the country`s only such facility overseas.
However, despite close ties on counter-terrorism, the trade between two countries has been meagre and was valued at USD 22.11 million in 2007-08.
India also plans to operate direct flights between New Delhi and the Tajik capital, beginning this month.
"India plans to operate up to 14 flights to Dushanbe and on its part Tajikistan will launch four flights. Initially India will start with four flights," officials said.