Mar 7, 2007 3:25 pm


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 alignment.

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 North Korea since the end of the Cold War in 1990. With the attacks increasing last year in Assam province, in India's northeast, and now with the major attack yesterday in Manipur, it is obvious Myanmar has now become one of the main bases for Tehran - Beijing to use for attacks against India and with the full cooperation of the military rulers in the Nay Pyi Taw.

Beijing had probably informed Tehran-Islamabad quite some time ago that Myanmar's government was definitely available so they are now sending a State Councilor to make further arrangements that will increase the ability of separatist units to ambush India's security forces in the area. The title state councillor is suspiciously ambiguous and can cover a variety of functions, which is why I suspect Tang Jiaxuan is in reality one of Beijing's experts on the Southeast Asian region, not only on Myanmar and its support, but also on Thailand and its vulnerability to more attacks by Islamic units, attacks that may soon spread to Bangkok, and can weaken Bangkok's role as a stable ally against Tehran-Beijing and their attempt to control Southeast Asia's resources.

In Nay Pyi Taw, Jiaxuan will be meeting the First Secretary of the Myanmar Peace and Development Council, Lieutenant - General Thein Sein, director of the government's command and control over the country. He is also the official Beijing is using to prepare Myanmar's military to meet the inevitable military response by Delhi this year as the attacks in India's northeast increase. What Beijing-Tehran intend, along with all the other governments in the South-Southeast Asia region they are working with, is to remove northeast India, all of Assam province and its states like Manipur, from Delhi's control.

In Bangkok Jiaxuan will evaluate the effectiveness and seriousness of the measures Bangkok is making to reduce the impact of further attacks by Islamic separatists units in Thailand's south. He will also investigate the strength of Bangkok's current government and the possibility, if the attacks do reach Bangkok repeatedly, could that cause the removal of its government. Since Myanmar's border runs south along Thailand's border, between the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Thailand, it is quite possible Myanmar could be another corridor for weapons to Islamic separatists group in southern Thailand. Mynamar's southern extension is not that far from the four Thai provinces under attack as they have been for the past three years.

The attacks have caused Washington to establish an intelligence listening post in south Thailand shortly after the violence began. With Myanmar now becoming one of the more important bases for Tehran - Beijing, it will force the Allies to support armed groups which have long been opposed to the military dictatorship. Bangkok has long had contacts with a lot of those units, some of them having been in operation ever since Burma's independence in 1948.

It all reminds me of pre-War World I Europe.

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