Sphere of Influence by Ashish Dhongde

The near successful attempt on the President of Tajikistan and the civil was that starts immediately thereafter threatens to cut the country into half.

Tajikistan’s restive Gorno-Badkhshan province goes into open rebellion, the rebels supported by power hungry bureaucrats in China.
While their President is operated upon in the Indian Military Hospital in Dushanbe, the interim Tajik government reaches out to the EU and the US for help.

But a resurgent Russia will allow no one but itself to send additional troops.

All does not go well however, and the Russian backed air assault to take the critical town of Khorugh fails.

The interim government desperately reaches out to anyone who can help and a traditionally isolationist India decides to support in the face of worsening weather and ominous moves by other nations.

As the GBAO looks lost for the winter, it is up to a heavily outnumbered company of a Mechanized battalion of the Indian Army to hold a critical pass on the M 41 highway, the only link into Khorugh, till reinforcements arrive.

Sphere of Influence can be purchased from Amazon


Ashish Dhongde was born in India. His father was in the Indian Army from whom Ashish heard anecdotes of life on the border. His first book Sphere of Influence is set in an India that is surging ahead and regaining the place that it held in the 17th and 18th century and earlier. Sphere of Influence is a book on an India that is prepared to look beyond it immediate borders. He aspires to be what a Tom Clancy is for the US or a Fredrick Forsythe for the British.

Ashish can be found on Facebook


HQ Central Military District, Yekaterinburg, Russia, September 14, 0905 HRS

It was almost 9 AM before Colonel General Kryalov, the Commander of the Russian Federation’s Central Military District could be traced and updated on the situation in Tajikistan.

The General was an extremely busy man. As the head of the Central Military District, he was responsible for an area as large as that of Canada, extending from the Arctic Circle to the borders of the old Soviet Republics.

Of Russia’s four military districts only the Eastern Military District that bordered the Pacific was larger in size.

Out of his headquarters in the quaint ten century old city of Yekaterinburg in central Russia, the General and his staff prepared strategies to counter US ships and aircraft in the Arctic sea, supported the Eastern Military District in monitoring Chinese troop movements, fought the constant drug wars against opium flowing in from Afghanistan and ensured that the ring of independent republics of the erstwhile USSR remained stable and pro-Russian.

He was also a hard line nationalist and a staunch supporter of the Russian President Vladimir Putin ever since he had come to power.

The President of Russia’s closest circle of advisors in the early 2000’s could be broadly divided into two types. The first and the bunch that had rapidly gained and then lost power was that of the of the open market supporters, the proponents of capitalism who had come into forefront with the rise of Yeltsin. They had wanted to bring in American and European companies and open up the economy. Due to their efforts, the Oligarch’s, as the owners of large private enterprises were known, had become rich; richer than ever before in the heydays of capitalism in Russia, building empires of oil, energy and minerals and pocketing much of the Russian wealth. Indeed for a time it had seemed that they had become more powerful than the army and even the President.

“Then Putin arrived as a savior of the Russian people” the General liked to say to anyone who would hear. “He started the process of destruction of those bloated oligarchs, reminding them and the world, that the power to bring them down had always remained with the state and merely had to be exercised.”

It had started with the arrests of the chiefs of large private entities like Yukos and Gazprom. The Europeans had cried out at that, worried about what would happen to their tens of billions of dollars of investments and deals. Their precious government funded human rights organizations had added their voice, protesting and screaming till they were red faced…

Putin had listened to no one and had broken them all down.

The General still remembered the look on the faces of those fat cats the day they had been arrested; people like Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chief of Yukos and Viktor Chernomyrdin of Gazprom, a Yeltsin hanger-on and reputed to be the most dishonest man in Russia. Kryalov had been on secondment to the FSB when they were detained for corruption just three years after famously declaring that they were the new rulers of Russia.

There had been no sweeter day for him.

In just four years, the hard as nails Russian President, with a bunch of like-minded people from the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB and the loyal Russian military had broken the back of the rapacious capitalists.

This close clique of the ultra-powerful, ultra-nationalists, all of whom wished to bring Russia back to the days of the old when she was a respected, a feared power were called the Slivoki.

Slivoki, loosely means ‘structure’ in the Russian language, harkening to the fact that most of those who belonged to this group of government-nationalists were originally from the Military or Paramilitary hierarchy or structure. By 2008 they were firmly entrenched in every important ministry.

They had no love for the communist ideology that had wrecked Russia’s position in the world and understood the importance of Capitalism. Capitalism was required, but without the immoral, decadent and disloyal capitalists. The philosophy of the Slivoki was that of state directed but privately managed enterprise, centered around massive state owned companies or ‘National Champions’ who would seek profits and at the same time serve as an economic weapon for the state.

Like EADS of Europe and Samsung of South Korea, giants like Rosneft and Gazprom were converted to large highly profitable ventures on the basis of the ongoing energy boom securing Russia’s position as an energy superpower. They made most of their profits selling energy to neighboring countries, subsidizing the cost of fuel inside Russia and at the same time bringing immense power to the country by garnering control of the flow of fuel into the consuming nations to the east and west. It meant power over a quarter of the world’s population besides a large degree of influence over global energy and economic markets. The US had done no different for more than half a century by corralling the Gulf oil and now the Russians were happy to hold all the cards and have the world pay them respect and money. The closest set off advisors was confident that the recent spat with the West over Ukraine would be over soon and that Russia would soon regain its position as the second largest energy exporter.

And if the Colonel General and his colleagues got their way, a lot of that money would pay for a resurgent Russian army, including an arms buildup program of a size unseen for the last two decades.

“Why hasn’t the 201st Motorized deployed yet?” Colonel General Kryalov snarled at his subordinate, a Major General himself who was responsible for the southern cone of the Central Military District, still a very large region itself, more than the size of Europe. His position included the responsibility for everything that the 40,000 strong Russian ground forces in the region did in the five former SSR countries. “What is the use of having operating procedures if they are not going to be followed?”

Old bastard never has the time to listen before shooting off Major General Yuri Bogadanov thought. He hated his boss; the daily briefing sessions that the beloved Kryalov liked to preside over were rarely complete without his haranguing on something half heard and understood. Yuri knew it was because his boss was a megalomaniac and the only voice he liked to hear was his own. The Major General promised himself every day that he would get drunk well and good the day Colonel General Kryalov retired.

“We have not received authorization from the Defense Ministry Sir.”

“Well why haven’t we got authorization? Did you care to ask that Sir?” Kryalov mimicked his junior.

“We did…Sir” the Major General’s face flushed red at the jibe; “the Tajik’s do not want us to deploy. Their Prime Minister, who is the acting Head of State, told the Ambassador that it was an internal matter and only if the situation worsened would he request our intervention. Apparently he said that the Tajik people would rather not be reminded of Russian presence any more than strictly required.”

Colonel General Kryalov’s eyes goggled in astonishment.

“Those sheep herders” he spluttered “those drug traders dare to tell us not to deploy. They almost got their President killed, they still have their shit pot country because of us and they tell us not to deploy.”

This was all fault of the Americans Kryalov raged. The rapacious bastards were looking to grab land and power everywhere and in the process destroyed the existing structure and generally fucked everything up, leaving the mess for others to clean up.

He remembered when the Russian External Affairs minister had taken up the matter of increased opium shipments from Tajikistan with Maqsud Iskandarov last year and suggested the formation of a Russo-Tajik border force on the lines of the Russian Border troops, to replace the ill trained Tajik guards who ran away in fear every time they saw SUV borne gunmen escorting yet another consignment of drugs over the Afghanistan border.

The good man had been snubbed for his efforts.

They had next tried to coerce the Tajiks into supporting the idea by raising import duties on key food products last summer but instead, Iskandarov had spoken some bull shit about the legitimacy of the Tajik state and not agreed to the additional Russian troops.

And where had he got the balls to do that? From the Americans, where else?

Bolstered by the sixty million dollars that the US gave him annually for the use of the Northern Distribution Network and the money from the sale of surplus electricity to his neighbors especially the energy hungry Afghans where huge US and Chinese led projects were taking off, he had refused this legitimate demand. He had also asked the 201st motorized to leave in eighteen months. That would mean that for the first time in a hundred years there would be no Russian troops in the country.

Even the electricity that he sold was produced from Russian made and paid for hydroelectric plants like the Nurek, the General raged mentally at that trivia.

Meanwhile shipments of drugs continued to rise. Grown in the fields of Afghanistan, the purified form crossed the border into Tajikistan or Uzbekistan in the north or into Pakistan towards the east and was then routed through Ukraine into the EU.

Such a situation would have been impossible to think a few decades ago and the Slivoki felt his anger boil. He had been a young officer when all of Europe had shivered under the threat of the fifty thousand strong tank fleet of the USSR. Now such days were few and far in between and he missed them.

In the east NATO had been joined by Ukraine and American troops had reached the borders of Russia, a Russia they believed was too weak to resist the US moves. In the south they attempted to get the Caucasian countries stitched into an anti – Taliban peace alliance that fooled no one about its true intents.

Something hardened in Kryalov’ s eyes and he controlled his anger from bursting out, remembering what the President had told his closest advisors and generals a few months ago, about the state of things to come and his plans for new Russia.

This small toad of a republic, he thought grimly, would soon be brought under control not just as a required corrective measure but also to ensure that the other six of the seven sisters in Central Asia understood their place in the scheme of things.

The General broke away from his reverie. Good thing about being in command was that your subordinates never interrupted you.

“Let them stew then, we will decide when to intervene.”

“There is also some kind of trouble in the Gorno Badakhshan Oblast” Major General Yuri continued. Better to be done with all the bad news at once.

“What’s new in that?” Kryalov shrugged dismissively.

Yuri looked to Colonel Dryadov, the Chief of intelligence and caught his eye.

Dryadov spoke up obligingly “It may be more than just the usual. We have reports that there is a big insurrection on in the GBAO. Several police stations have been attacked with rebels wielding automatic weapons”

“And yet the wise Tehrir Shahbazi refuses to request our support. He is a bigger idiot that I thought.”

“Even he may not know everything as it stands right now” Dryadov continued mildly “about how bad things really are. We are just aware that there has been some heavy fighting between the Tajik paramilitary and some rebels in Khorugh.”

“How bad?” the Colonel General snapped impatiently. He hated it when his subordinates fed him information piecemeal; it made for poor decision making.

“I cannot talk to the Defense Minister unless I get to know how bad it is” he continued. “If it’s bad we can force the issue. Is it we let it go bad, or is it we need to intervene bad? I hope I am speaking plainly enough for you and you too Major General? Get me an answer in the next three hours. Also prepare to deploy the 201st anyway; we will stand them down if it is nothing. It’ll do them good to check their readiness. Let’s move on.”

The two subordinates nodded and Major General Boganadov took notes on his pad.

“There is another thing” the voice was of Colonel Chekov of the Russian Air Force and his words took them by surprise.

“We have reports of large numbers of US transport aircraft being diverted to Dushanbe. Specifically to the airfield at Ayni, most from Fakhror, some from Manaus.”

The room went quiet.

“What kind of aircraft?” General Kryalov asked dangerously.

“Some of them were carrying troops. We suspect it’s for an evacuation but it could be for deployment as well” the Air Force Officer proposed.

Major General Yuri winced at that assessment, he had not been told about it before the meeting.

The Colonel General lost it completely.

Kryalov cursed. “No bloody Amerikanski are going to send in troops when the Tajiki’s refuse to allow my men already inside their country to deploy.”

He turned to his aide “Get me defense minister Cherbayov” he shouted. “The Americans are not going to use these troubles as an excuse to get their grubby hands over another country, not on my watch.”