By A Khokar
On 22nd Jan 2009, INDIA handed over to Afghan authorities ZARANJ – DELARAM highway built by it in the face of stiff resistance from Taliban, vowing that the collaboration between the two countries in the field of development will not stop.
There are approximately 3,000-4,000 Indian nationals working on several reconstruction projects across Afghanistan. The principal projects include, among others:
– Construction of a 220 KV Double Circuit Transmission Line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 KV sub-station at Kabul under the North-East Power System project to bring power from neighbouring countries to Kabul (USD 111 million);
– Humanitarian food assistance of one million tons of wheat in the form of high protein biscuits distributed to 1.4 million schoolchildren every day under the School Feeding Programme, administered through the World Food Programme (USD 100 million);
– Construction of a 218 kilometre road from Zaranj to Delaram to facilitate movement of goods and commodities from Afghanistan to Iranian border (USD 175 million – approval for an additional USD 91 million is being sought);
– Reconstruction and completion of Salma Dam Power Project (42 MW) in Herat province (USD 116 million – approval for additional USD 36 million is being sought);
– Construction of Afghan Parliament (USD 83 million);
– Reconstruction of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul in various phases, including reconstruction of surgical ward/polyclinic/diagnostic centre (USD 6.7 million);
– Reconstruction of Habibia School (USD 5.1 million);
– Digging of 26 tube wells in North West Afghanistan (USD 1.2 million);
– Gifting of vehicles (400 buses, 200 mini-buses, 105 municipality and 285 army vehicles) (USD 25 million);
– Setting up of 5 toilet-cum-public sanitation complexes in Kabul (USD 0.9 million);
– Telephone exchanges in 11 provinces connecting to Kabul (USD 11.1 million);
– Expansion of National TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals, contributing towards greater integration of the country (USD 6.8 million).
The present level of India’s assistance to Afghanistan is USD 750 million, making it the 5th largest bilateral donor after the US, UK, Japan and Germany. According to the Indian Embassy at Kabul, of the total pledge of USD 750 million between 2002 and 2009, the fully committed amount is USD 758.21 million and cumulative disbursement up to 2006-07 has been US $ 278.94 million.
This ambitious project (Zaranj – Delaram), funded and executed by India, will provide Afghanistan a shorter route to the sea, via the Iranian port of Chabahar, than is currently available through Pakistan. Iran, India and Afghanistan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in January 2003, to improve Afghanistan’s access to the coast.
Under this agreement, Iran is building a new transit route to connect Milak in the southeast of the country to Zaranj in Afghanistan, and has already completed an important bridge over the Helmand River.
On its part, India has completed building the new road connecting Zaranj to Delaram, which is on the main Herat-Kandahar road.
These projects will shorten the transit distance between Chabahar and Delaram by over 600 kilometres. According to the MoU, Afghan goods will have duty-free access to the Iranian port and the trade from Afghanistan will have to pay no more than what is applied to Iranian traders for using Iranian territory for transit purposes.
India is to enjoy similar benefits as Afghanistan at Chabahar port and for transit. Furthermore, India and Iran have also agreed to build a railroad from Chabahar to the Iranian Central Railway Station, thus creating a link to the Karachi-Tehran Railway line, which goes further westwards.
While Afghanistan gains superior access to realize its trade potential, India will be able to prevail over checks posed by Pakistan in refusing to allow the transit of Indian goods en route to Afghanistan. Furthermore, India would be able to obtain quicker access (of GAS / HYDROCARBONS) to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.
The Zaranj-Delaram project, consequently, has direct ramifications for the three participating countries, and impacts on Pakistan by default. Afghanistan, the host country that is still a long way away from recovery, continues to be a playground for competing foreign policy agendas and the ‘new great game’ that is evidently being played out on its soil.
The Taliban detests India’s proximity with the Hamid Karzai regime and leaders of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. The Taliban/Al Qaeda combine and the trans-national jihadi groups have consequently and continuously targeted Indian nationals and interests since India began reconstruction operations in Afghanistan, particularly in southern Afghanistan and in the Herat area bordering Iran.
Reconstruction efforts and the unfortunate consequence of violence play out amidst the reality of the limited control exercised by the Hamid Karzai Government over southern and eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban, Al Qaeda and an assortment of tribal elders and warlords, have de facto control over this region, and some of these entities either operate from their safe sanctuaries along Pak-Afghan border.
US-NAT forces as well as India would like to portray that the dangers of anarchy across wide areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border go well beyond the confines of the region, and be seen to be sourced in Pakistan to a far greater extent than in the debilitated state of Afghanistan. The Mumbai attack followed by declaration of LeT as Terrorist by UN Security Council and now the Lahore attack (where foreigners are involved) are all such orchestration to build a positive case against Pakistan to cripple Pakistan and declare it as the epicentre of Terrorism.
Despite the steadily worsening situation in Afghanistan and the direct attacks against Indian projects and workers, there is no indication that India intends to dilute its presence or commitment to projects in Afghanistan. Indeed, there are strong efforts to further consolidate India-Afghanistan relations beyond the present commitment, which is primarily related to reconstruction and development efforts.
There is, for instance, a proposal for the Indian Army to train the Afghan National Army in counter-insurgency operations. While India would remain “actively engaged” in the reconstruction exercise in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future, the next step of military cooperation would unambiguously threaten Pakistan’s attempts to secure dominance and recover strategic depth in Afghanistan.
Though Pakistan is currently wracked by multiple internal convulsions that have, in some measure, undermined its capacities of power projection into Afghanistan, it remains the case that it shares strategic goals with the Taliban in this theatre.
India’s deepening co-operation with Afghanistan may hamper Pakistan’s prospective strategies envisage an augmented share of power for the Taliban at Kabul, in the proximate future, and a return to the status quo ante of a Taliban regime, in the medium term. India endeavour would be that a pro Indian strong regime at Kabul is constituted which would immediately put the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan into question, and further destabilize North Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). But Pakistan’s covert assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its efforts to recover ‘strategic depth’ in that country through this proxy, will inevitably continue, though its scale may be calibrated to ensure that it does not provoke US ire and reprisals.
 where as our politician are busy wrestling for power; our enemies finding it a ripe time are all out to snatch away even our land from under our feet.(Hum hain keh Jotioun main daal bant rahey hain)
Source: Indian Media