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Reports on Conference/Seminars

Name of Event:

  ICWA- Tajik Academy of Sciences Conference
"Geo-political Dynamics of India- Tajikistan Relations"
  June 29, 2010
  Dushanbe , Tajikistan

The geopolitical significance of India and Tajikistan in relation to each other is underscored by the fact that just a narrow strip of Afghan territory called the 'Wakhan panhandle' separates the Republic of Tajikistan from the Indian Subcontinent. The relations between India and Tajikistan today rest on two solid pillars: (a) the bonds of history and culture manifested in shared belief in pluralism, secularism and the spirit of tolerance; and (b) convergence of geopolitical concerns and interests in modern times. Growing cooperation in economic, political, academic and defence fields may further strengthen and deepen the existing bonds.

Bonds of History and Culture: multiculturalism and the spirit of tolerance

The National Antiquities Museum at Dushanbe displays with pride one of the biggest Buddhist monuments -the 13-metre long statue of sleeping Buddha. After the senseless destruction of the two thousand year old giant rock statues of Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in 2001, the sleeping Buddha at Dushanbe may be one of the biggest Buddha statues in the region. Utmost care is taken with great reverence to protect the priceless historical statue from the dust and din of the outside world. Thus, the visitors to the museum have to put on disposable plastic coverings over their shoes before entering the museum. Not far from the Buddhist monument, stands the sprawling complex of the Ismaili Centre in Dushanbe, built by Agha Khan. One of the most impressive buildings in modern-day Central Asia, the Ismaili Centre combines with perfect symmetry the traditional Central Asian style with contemporary architectural concepts. The people of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous region of Tajikistan, who are known as the 'Pamiris', are Isamilis. Agha Khan is the head of the sect.

Unlike the other four Central Asian states -Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, who belong to the Turkic group of ethnicity and language, the Tajiks belong to the Iranian group of language and ethnicity. Tajik language is a branch of Persian language. However, while the majority of Iranians are Shias, the majority of Tajiks adhere to the Sunni sect of Islam.

In 9th and 10th centuries under the enlightened Samanid dynasty with its capital in Bukhara, Central Asia witnessed a period of cultural and intellectual renaissance. Tajiks regard the Samanid Empire as the first Tajik state. Bukhara of that time had some of the best libraries of world. The world-renowned physician and philosopher Abu Sino (known as Avicenna) was a product of Bukhara of that time. The most prominent feature of the central square in Dushanbe is the imposing figure of Ismoil Somoni, the most illustrious of the rulers of Samanid dynasty. Tajik currency 'somoni' is named after him.

The spirit of tolerance appears to imbue the beautiful mountainous country richly endowed with verdant countryside and flowing rivers and rivulets. Modernity and tradition seem to blend well in the Tajik capital. One can see the strong imprint of Russian and Western culture co-existing with the revival of Islamic headscarf and other practices. Indian films and music are immensely popular. Famous Tajik poet Mirzo Tursunzade following his visit to India in March 1947 wrote 13 poems on various aspects of India. The poems created great interest in the people of Tajikistan in contemporary India. Subsequently the works of great Indian writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Prem Chand and others were translated in Tajik language. Indeed, Tagore became a household name throughout the former Soviet Union, including in Tajikistan. Many Tajiks are learning Hindi. Every year 250 new students are enrolled to learn Hindi at the Indian Cultural Centre.

There is a vibrant academic exchange programme under ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation). Every year, 100 slots are given to young professionals of Tajikistan for going to India for various short and medium-term training programmes. India's contribution to nation and state building process in Tajikistan by capacity building through training of young professionals is highly appreciated. Every year 30 ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) fellowships are awarded to young Tajik scholars to do graduate, post-graduate and Ph.D. courses in various Indian universities.

Indian assistance for understanding and rediscovering their past

Speaking at the conference, Prof. Shodi Sufiev of the Institute of Oriental Studies and Written Heritage, pointed out that during the great Mughal period, when Persian was the language of the court, the number of scientific, literary and historical works written in India in the Persian language far exceeded the number of such works in all other Iranian areas. This period was described by noted German Orientalist, Herman Ette as "the Indian summer of the Persian literature." The Tajiks regard the study of the Persian manuscripts preserved in various libraries in India as very valuable in order to understand their own history and heritage.

Convergence of India-Tajikistan Geopolitical Interests

Saodat Olimova and Muzaffar Olimov of Research Center "Shark" remarked on the basis of the findings of an opinion poll that the Tajiks do not put India in the list of countries that may pose a potential threat to Tajikistan. Moreover, the majority of respondents regard India as 'very friendly' or 'friendly' country.

All the speakers at the conference agreed that the geopolitical interests of India and Tajikistan broadly converge as both the countries have a vital stake in regional peace and stability.

Of all the Central Asian states, Tajikistan has the longest (about 1200-km) border with Afghanistan. The people of Tajikistan made huge sacrifices during the civil war (1992-1997) in fighting the forces of Islamic extremism and militancy. The threat posed to the peace and stability of the entire region by the ascendance of Taliban militia in Afghanistan from 1996-2001, had a sobering effect on both sides of the Tajik civil war. The peace accord of 1997 between the government on the one hand and the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party, on the other hand, ended the civil war in Tajikistan. It marked the victory of Tajik nationalism. Tajikistan was also the support base for the Northern Alliance, which tried to resist the advance of Taliban militia in the northern parts of Afghanistan. India opened a hospital in Farkhor region of Tajikistan in aid of the Northern Alliance.

The situation in Afghanistan is once again fluid and critical. Dr. Jyotsna Bakshi, Visiting Senior Fellow at the ICWA, said that the best-case scenario would be the emergence of Afghanistan as a land bridge between the countries to its north and south, east and west that may lead to increased trade and commerce between them. The worst-case scenario would be uncontrolled descent of Afghanistan into further chaos and internecine conflict while middle case scenario would be continued rivalry among major powers accompanied by partial cooperation for preventing uncontrolled chaos and destabilization of the entire region. In all these cases, close strategic cooperation between India and Tajikistan is crucial for protecting vital security interests of both the countries.

Dr Abdunabi Sattorzoda of the Tajik Institute for Strategic Studies -- an institution affiliated to the office of the Tajik President, stressed that India has traditionally been a special friend of Tajikistan. India-Tajik relations have a tremendous significance for the region, and India is held in very high esteem among the Tajiks for a variety of reasons, most notably for its democratic governance, for its value systems that promote tolerance, and for the strong positions it has taken on the need for eliminating religious extremism, fanaticism and terrorism in the region. This is something Tajikistan proudly shares in common with India. Tajikistan is also well aware of India's strengths in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, tourism, its vast trade linkages, advanced science and technology, strengths in education and cultural spheres, and rapidly developing infrastructure domestically.

Sattorzoda said that Tajikistan sincerely believes that India is an important factor for peace and stability in the region, and has an important role to play in ensuring security in the Central Asian region. It is with this assessment in mind that Tajikistan has supported full membership for India in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the recent meeting of the organization in Dushanbe. Sattorzoda expressed his confidence that India will soon be a full member.

Referring to the security situation in Afghanistan and the threat from narcotics emanating from there, Sattorzoda said that India and Tajikistan would have to work together to safeguard the national interests of the ordinary Afghan people.

Regarding Western move to seek peace with the Taliban, Mr. Sattorzoda added, India and Tajikistan should both remain skeptical about peace overtures being made to the Taliban since it will not result in any positive results. There are serious dangers in dealing with the Taliban, and this will prove dangerous not only to the Afghans but to the Central Asian people in general. Tajikistan does not believe in "good" or "bad" Taliban. If the Taliban forces are "engaged" in any manner, the result in Afghanistan will be civil war. Talibanization of Afghanistan will have terrible consequences for the entire Central Asian region. What is important in Afghanistan is national reconciliation, and India and Tajikistan must work together to bring the various actors (from all ethnic groups) in Afghanistan closer to each other. Otherwise, Afghanistan will continue to remain at war.

Ambassador Rajiv Dogra focused on the threat of drugs. Ninety per cent of heroin originates from Afghanistan and drug money in circulation amounts to $ 55 billion. It is feeding terrorist and anti-social activities.

Viktor Dubovinskiy of the Institute of History, Archeology and Ethnography of Tajik Academy of Sciences, spoke of the desirability of trilateral cooperation between Russia, India and China for dealing with the tangled Afghan crisis in view of US decision setting July 2011 as the date of beginning of its military withdrawal from Afghanistan. All these three major Eurasian powers are facing serious threat from Islamic militancy and extremism. Mr. Dubovinskiy felt that in the developing situation in and around Afghanistan, India is called upon to perform the onerous responsibility of "consolidation of all constructive forces of the southern sub-region of Eurasia in the struggle against political and religious extremism." He added that in his view, "India possesses both resources and political will for this purpose and is capable to resist to any calls and risks in the zone of its geopolitical responsibility."

Dr. Meena Singh Roy presented a paper on Indian perception of SCO. Indian side expressed its thanks to the Tajik side for its support for Indian's candidature of UNSC as also of likely Indian membership of SCO.

The conference evoked great interest in Tajik academic circles. It was followed by a lively press conference and was widely covered by the local print and electronic media. Tajik side was keen that such conferences are organized once in two years and academic exchanges between the scholars of the two countries gets further boost.

Report prepared by Dr. AVS Ramesh Chandra, Deputy Director General, ICWA and Dr. Jyotsna Bakshi, ICSSR Visiting Senior Fellow at ICWA.