India, Tajikistan and Russia are in negotiations on the joint use of the Ayni Air Base, close to the Tajik capital Dushanbe which is set to acquire strategic significance after US withdrawal from Afghanistan, sources said here.
Though Defence Minister A K Antony made a technical halt at the Base, on way to Russia he did not divulge whether a trilateral understanding had been reached to develop the base, one of the biggest in Central Asia during his parleys here.
But, sources said that in talks with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, the issue, including working out modalities of joint use of the base was discussed.
When asked if India was a partner in the use of the base, Antony merely described Ayni as the best air base in entire Central Asia.
According to reports India has spent USD 70 million to upgrade the base, which was one of the major air hubs in the erstwhile USSR Central Command.
According to diplomatic sources the abandoned Soviet air base just 10 km away from Dushanbe was modernised by India as part of aid to Tajikistan in building its armed forces.
"They need to build a potent air force to keep an eye on the volatile border with neighbouring Afghanistan, passing through rugged terrain," the sources told PTI.
They, however, confirmed that all the three countries - India, Tajikistan and Russia are holding talks on the bilateral basis to evolve modalities for the joint use of Ayni.
According to earlier Russian media reports Moscow would station Su-25 ground attack jets and helicopter gunships at Ayni.
Antony Non-Committal on Ayni Air Base in Tajikistan
Vinay Shukla / Moscow
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