Judith Apter Klinghoffer
THE GREAT ASIAN GAME IS HEATING UP
A day after terrorist blow up 68 Indians and Pakistanis on the "Friendship train," Pakistan tests Shaheen II nuclear capable ballistic missile. I suspect that while we are fighting a war against terror, other, even more dangerous, battle lines are also being drawn. There is an incredible arms race going on in Asia and plenty of prepositioning and testing. The recently established Hotline between Beijing and New Delhi was far from a sign of a new friendship. The real reemerging strategic partnership is between India and Russia. Consider:
1. Tajik air base is ready, gives India its first footprint in strategic Central Asia
India refurbished the Ayni air base, 10 km north-east of Dushanbe, at the cost of over Rs 80 crore under a trilateral defence agreement with Tajikistan and Russia. With its runway extended, perimeter fencing secured and aircraft hangars built, the Ayni airbase is ready after a delay of nearly two years. Lying dilapidated since 1985, this airbase was used by the former Soviet Union during its Afghan campaign.
Official sources have told The Sunday Express that the Chiefs of Staff Committee has already put its stamp of approval on operating the base. However, Defence Minister A K Antony has asked the CCS for a formal mandate on force levels before the Indian Air Force moves its platforms to Ayni.
Under the trilateral agreement, India, Russia and Tajikistan will have command and control of the air base by rotation and a contingent of Defence Services personnel is already in Ayni after military contractors completed construction last December.
Ayni?s use is limited by the fact that India has no direct access to Tajikistan with part of Kashmir and Northern Areas being controlled by Pakistan. Under the circumstances, the Indian team will have to work with the Russians, who already have a motorised division stationed in Tajikistan, for all logistical help and support.
India has plans to put a squadron of Mi-17 V1 helicopters at Ayni with logistical support coming from Russia in the landlocked Tajikistan. While Russia is operating fighters from this base, New Delhi does not want to commit fixed-wing platforms for Ayni. The Indian Air Force has already given flying training to Tajikistan air force personnel under the agreement.
Conceived in 2002 under the NDA regime, the Ayni air base allows India rapid response to any emerging threat from the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan arc including a terrorist hijacking like the IC-814. It also gives New Delhi a limited yet significant capability to inject special forces into a hostile theater as and when the situation demands.
The other aspect is India?s role in the energy security calculus in the region with prospects of Central Asian natural gas reaching the subcontinent and negotiations with energy-rich countries like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Energy security is now a major concern with the Strategic Policy Group under Cabinet Secretary discussing the issue with the service chiefs, Home, Defence and Foreign Secretaries on February 7.
2. Indian Supreme Court gets involved in India - China border alignemtn.
The Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Centre and West Bengal government on a petition challenging the change of the originally conceived route alignment pertaining to the East-West corridor of the Golden Quadrilateral project, launched by the NDA government in 2002. . . .
Lahoty submitted that the corridor which runs through a stretch of 366 km between West Bengal and Assam was designed on the advice of the defence ministry experts as the expansion covered strategically-significant borders areas involving Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and the Nathuala Pass linking China.
As per the original plan the route was to start from Islampur, Bagdora, Siliguri, Dooraj areas in West Bengal to Alipur Dwar in Assam.
The defence ministry, according to the petition, wanted such an alignment as it could be strategically useful in case of any border skirmishes.
However, it was alleged that UPA government had changed the alignment by diverting the route towards Jalpaiguri, Mayagudi, Cooch-Behar and Thufangi areas of West Bengal due to political reasons.
3. Crossfire War - China Increases Military Cooperation With Burma
The day after the largest attack in India's Manipur (14 Indian policemen killed) state, on Burma's (Myanmar) western border, Beijing sent State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan to Nay Pyi Taw for a three day working visit. . . .
Beijing knows that as a result of Pyongyang setting off the nuclear test last October, and with Moscow renewing its old influence in North Korea as a result, Beijing has disengaged from there and has increased its control over Myanmar, which is actually one of China's provinces as had been Nort