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April 26, 2006
India Gets Expansionist

India has taken its first step as a military power in Asia by opening its first foreign military base in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia. The move signals a more assertive and muscular foreign policy by the Indians, who need to secure routes for its ever-increasing reliance on oil and natural gas:

India is to open its first overseas military base this year in the impoverished central Asian country of Tajikistan - a testament to its emerging status on the world stage.

The Indian air force will station up to two squadrons of MiG-29s at the refurbished former Soviet airbase of Farkhor more than 60 miles from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe, Jane's Defence Weekly said, citing defence officials. A control tower is already in place, Indian media reported. ...

India has stepped up its activity in central Asia, eager to gain access to its gas supplies. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, is expected to meet with Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, during a visit to the capital, Tashkent, which began yesterday.

As the Guardian (UK) notes, this makes the race for influence in Central Asia a bit more interesting. The Russians have wanted to keep the former Soviet satellites as a diplomatic and economic buffer zone and a barrier to Western ambitions in the region. The republics themselves, impoverished by their long Soviet occupation and lingering dictatorships, need more interaction with the West to build modern economies. Their chief asset is energy, and that has attracted many suitors, including the US and Germany, the former also attracted by the key strategic physical positions of these countries in the war on terror.

Now, with India joining in the effort, the republics of Central Asia will come under even more democratic influence. India's new economic growth requires dependable sources of energy, and the region has the reserves and the capacity to deliver. The military bases will provide India the necessary security for their pipelines, but it will also serve to strengthen the independence of Tajikistan from the increasingly autocratic domination of Moscow. Vladimir Putin will find his influence waning in the region as more free nations engage the former Russian proxies. Hopefully, the continued engagement by free nations will press the Tajiks and other Asian republics to embrace democracy and put aside strongman rule; it certainly gives more hope than we have seen from Moscow's politics the past few years.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 26, 2006 5:56 AM

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