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Tajikistan denies plans for Indian military base

RIA Novosti

27/02/2007 14:23 DUSHANBE, February 27 (RIA Novosti) - A senior Tajik military official Tuesday denied media reports that India is set to deploy an air base in the Central Asian country.

Some Internet sources earlier cited the Indian press as saying that India was planning to deploy a helicopter squadron at the Aini military airfield, 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the country's capital, Dushanbe. It was alleged that Russia, whose jet fighters are based at the airfield, would provide maintenance.

"Information that the air base will house Indian helicopters is untrue, we only have an agreement, signed in 2002, on [India's] assistance in the reconstruction of the Aini military airfield, and there is no suggestion that the airfield is to be used by the Indian Armed Forces," said Major General Maruf Khasanov, head of the international cooperation department at Tajikistan's Defense Ministry.

Saimumin Yatimov, Tajikistan's first deputy foreign minister, in late January confirmed media reports that Aini was being renovated in cooperation with India, but said its status was not yet settled and would be determined some time in the future, "with Tajikistan's national and international interests in mind."

According to the media, Tajikistan is planning to use the facility jointly with India and Russia.

A narrow strip of Afghani land separates Tajikistan from Pakistan, with which India has been entangled in a protracted conflict over the disputed Kashmir region. But an airbase in Tajikistan could have implications far beyond Indo-Pakistani rivalry in South Asia.

Although both Tajik and Indian officials have denied the presence of Indian forces at Aini, an Indian base in the country might be useful in New Delhi's efforts to promote stability in Afghanistan and contain Islamic terrorism in South and Central Asia.

Central Asia is rich in energy resources, and India's presence in the region might also pose serious competition to its energy-hungry neighbor, China.

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