Vice president visiting Tajikistan April 14-17

New Delhi, April 13 (IANS) Vice President Hamid Ansari is to pay a four-day official visit to Tajikistan from Sunday, the first by an Indian vice president to the Central Asian country with which India shares close strategic ties.

Ansari will hold talks with the prime minister and the defence, trade and foreign ministers during his stay and visit Nurek in Khatlon province where the Nurek dam, considered the tallest in the worls, is situated. He will also visit the Tajik Technical University where India has set up a modern engineering workshop that was inaugurated in 2011.

Relations between India and Tajikistan have traditionally been cordial and close in the

two decades since its independence, said Ajay Bisaria, joint secretary (Eurasia Division) in the external affairs ministry.

During the 2012 visit of President Emomalii Rahmon, India announced new projects in Tajikistan, including an IT centre of excellence and a pan-Central Asian e-network that would include tele education and telemedicine delivery in the region, medical centres and an entrepreneurship development institute, said Bisaria.

Landlocked Tajikistan is of “immense geo strategic importance” to India, sharing a 520 km border with China and a porous 1,425 km border with Afghanistan, including the narrow Afghan-Wakhan corridor which at its narrowest point is 16 km away from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Afghanistan would be in focus during talks, said Bisaria, adding that President Rahmon had discussed the matter last year too.

Tajikistan is “extremely concerned” about Afghanistan, especially in the context of the drawdown of international troops in 2014, and with reports of Afghan mercenaries entering the country.

In 2006, India had committed to undertake rehabilitation and modernization of the Varzob-1 Hydro Power Station, which was undertaken by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC). The project was inaugurated last year.

Both countries also share close defence relations, with India also involved in training of Tajik officers and cadets, said Bisaria.

Bilateral trade, which stood at $27 million last year, has been low, due to transportation difficulties. Goods from India have to travel by sea from Bandar Abbas in Iran and then to Tajikistan by land.

India is taking steps to re-energise the the North-South corridor and also the trans-Afghan corridor for access to Tajikistan.

A joint commission is working on a blueprint to boost trade between the two countries.

Bisaria denied that India had any fighter planes stationed in Tajikistan, but was only involved in the reconstruction of the Ayni airfield.

Ansari will be accompanied by Minister of State for Food Tariq Anwar and four MPs, including Rajya MPs Chandan Mitra and Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Then president Pratibha Patil had visited Tajikistan in 2009 and then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003. Tajik President Rahmon has visited India five times, the last time being September 2012, when ties were elevated to a strategic partnership.

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