India and Tajikistan to strengthen trade links through Chabahar Port

India and Tajikistan on the recently concluded five day visit of President Emomalih Rahmon (from December 14th to 18th) have agreed to strengthen trade links through Chabahar Port. The agreement comes at a time when Pakistan is wooing nations to be part of the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) project. President Rahmon on his state visit to India arrived in Kochi and after spending two days reached Delhi where he was extended a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He later held talks with President and Vice-President and issued a joint statement with Prime Minister Modi.

Tajikistan which share southern boundaries with Pakistan & Afghanistan and eastern boundary with China is a strategically important partner in our extended neighborhood. India’s direct access to Tajikistan is restricted due to the adjoining Gilgit-Baltistan controlled by Pakistan. India has its lone overseas air base at Farkhor, South West of Dushanbe and is cause of severe discontentment to China and Pakistan. India has built a military hospital near the airbase. Sadly, no credible information about its activities is available currently as the base hasn’t been in use since 1980s. But some reports suggest that the airbase was in dilapidated condition and government awarded a tender of $10 million to a private firm for its restoration in 2003.

India and Tajikistan have cordial friendly relations with shared interests in regional security and development. On his fifth State visit to India in 2012 President Rahmon and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have elevated bilateral relations to Strategic Partnership. The cooperation encompasses a wide spectrum of areas like political, economic, military, health, education, human resource development, defence, counterterrorism, culture, tourism, science, and development. While Tajikistan support India’s bid for permanent membership at extended UNSC, India helped Tajikistan’s accession to WTO. Both countries have been actively working through Multilateral Fora like UN and SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Earlier in 2015, Prime Minister Modi on his bilateral visit to Central Asia strengthened bilateral relations. Later both leaders met along sidelines of SCO at Tashkent in 2016.

While the aerial distance between India and Tajikistan is 95km, but the volume of business transactions is much below the potential. Since goods are to be transported through a circuitous route, bilateral trade is severely hampered. (From India to Bandar Abbas by sea and then via Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan finally to Turkmenistan). As of 2014-15 bilateral trade stands at $58 million. Now countries have decided to enhance trade and transport links through the Chabahar port in Iran which can provide connectivity to Tajikistan. India is actively working towards development of the International North South Corridor which includes Tajikistan. At Hyderabad House, shortly after the bilateral talks, both sides inked pacts on bilateral investment, avoidance of double taxation and prevention of fiscal evasion. Underscoring the need for surface connectivity for greater economic cooperation, leaders opined that accession to Ashgabat agreement will improve connectivity of Tajikistan to Central Asia. Leaders have also explored possibilities of increasing flight services between both countries.

Rahmon during his current visit sought Indian investments in small & medium hydroelectric power projects and in four free economic zones developed in Tajikistan. He appreciated India’s efforts in modernization of Vazrob-1 hydroelectric plant. Both sides have also agreed to enhance defence cooperation and signed pacts against terror financing and money laundering. India and Tajikistan expressed concerns over growing terrorism and extremism in the region that threaten the peace, stability, and security of the region. Leaders agreed to work towards the development, restoration of peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. President Rahmon thanked India for setting up 37 computer labs in Tajikistan. Both sides reviewed the progress of projects under implementation and in pipeline. collaborate in capacity building at Tajikistan, application of space technology for human development and agriculture. Key areas of bilateral cooperation currently have been pharmaceuticals, information technology and hydel-power. Commemorating 25 years of diplomatic partnership both countries reaffirmed to elevate bilateral ties to newer heights by 2017.  Both countries share deep-rooted history and heritage and leaders reiterated that greater cultural exchange and people to people contact can rekindle friendship.

Despite strong cultural, linguistic, and religious connect with Central Asia India failed to fully capitalize on its friendly ties with this extended neighbor because of connectivity issues.  Pakistan to provide India access to Central Asia. This vehement denial prompted India and Afghanistan to seal a trilateral transit agreement with Iran culminating in development of Chabahar port for strengthening economic cooperation. India and Tajikistan share multiple security threats and challenges. Combatting terror and development of nations in the region have emerged as two formidable concerns in the region. In a bid to deepen engagement, both countries have agreed to step-up cooperation to extricate terror in all forms and manifestations in the region.

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