As NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and the US Manas Transit Center base in Kyrgyzstan closes shop, American forces may look to bolster their presence in the delicate aftermath. As mentioned by Rep Dan Burton of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, Tajikistan could be a good site for future US logistical operations in the region. Although tempting when pouring over a map of the region, the US is likely to face an uphill battle in locating military bases of any kind in the country. As noted by Roger McDermott of the Jamestown Foundation, “…in December 2011, Dushanbe signed a CSTO agreement on foreign basing that involves requiring full consent among all members prior to agreeing to host a new military base: this gives Moscow a de facto veto on Tajikistan opening a US military facility in the country.”
The US is hardly the only suitor for Tajik real estate. Interestingly enough, Russia’s own base in Tajikistan is slated to close in 2014 as well. Tajikistan, testing its negotiating prowess, submitted a first-round offer of an annual lease fee of $250 million to allow Russia to keep its facility for another 49 years. Russia was less than impressed. Although talks are not due to officially conclude until October 2012, rumors of a rent-free agreement have been announced by Russian sources already. The Tajik Foreign Ministry openly denied these claims.
While a continued presence in the mountainous nation is clearly desirable for Russia, officials continue to play it cool and downplay their need. “For some reason Dushanbe believes that Russia needs the base more than Dushanbe does. Delusions run deep,” noted Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director at the Institute for Political and Military Analysis. As long as Taliban strife continues in impoverished Tajikistan’s neighbor to the south and Uzbekistan threatens war in response to dam building, Russia has a point – especially as the US withdraws from the region.
India is simultaneously looking to hold on to its one and only foreign military base in Farkhor. Bordering Afghanistan to the south, but less than 300 kilometers from Pakistan, the base is of real importance to the Indian military as evidenced by their recent $70 million in base upgrades. Not to mention it is India’s only military base on foreign soil. Meanwhile, Iran is a third watchful outsider to the Tajikistan’s alliances. Beyond Tajik’s linguistic roots in Farsi, Iran also has a clear preference for a Russia-facing foreign policy in this lynchpin nation.
Tajikistan is trying to balance relations with neighboring and distant nations, develop a woefully impoverished populace buttressed by remittances from Tajiks working abroad and finally take advantage of its keystone position in the region. With war to its south in Afghanistan and an unruly neighbor in Uzbekistan hollering about planned Tajik hydroelectric installments in Roghun, Dushanbe must accumulate all the friends it can.