From Afghan Parliament to Salma dam: A look at Indian infrastructure development initiatives in Afghanistan

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At least five people were killed in Kabul airport as hundreds of people tried to forcibly enter planes leaving the Afghan capital. Victorious Taliban fighters patrolled Kabul on Monday after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city’s airport trying to flee the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule.

The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing an end to a two-decade campaign in which the US and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan.

Now as the Taliban has taken over the country, India faces a situation where it may have no role to play in Afghanistan, which would be a reversal of New Delhi’s efforts in the region over the last 20 years. India has played a significant role in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process in Afghanistan. India’s extensive developmental assistance programme now stands at over $3 billion, as per Indian Express.

India has built roads, dams, electricity transmission networks and substations, schools and most prominently, the Afghan Parliament. India and Afghanistan bilateral trade touched the $1.5 billion mark for the previous financial year, 2019-2020. India’s exports to Afghanistan almost touched $ 1 billion and India’s imports from Afghanistan were around $530 million.

Since 2001, when the US-led war on terrorism ousted the Taliban regime from Kabul, New Delhi has pledged and implemented development and reconstruction projects worth more than $3 billion, according to the Indian foreign ministry, reported Mint

The two nations signed the 2011 India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement to help build infrastructure, educational institutions, encourage investment, and provide duty-free access to the Indian market.

Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar speaking in Geneva in November 2020 said India has undertaken over 400-plus projects in all of the country’s 34 provinces. The fate of all these projects now hangs in balance.

Here’s a list of some of the biggest projects that India undertook in the country:

Afghanistan Parliament: The Afghan Parliament in Kabul was built by India at $90 million. It was inaugurated in 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was a gift from India to the war-ravaged nation. The large complex, built over 100 acres of land, with a gleaming copper roof stands in the Dar-ul-Aman Palace complex of the capital. India’s Central Public Works Department (CPWD) is the consultant for the project and the contract was awarded to an Indian infrastructure company in 2008. Construction began in mid-2009 and efforts are underway to complete the project in 2014.

Salma dam: Salma dam in Herat’s Cheshte Sharif district is one of the largest dams in Afghanistan and provides irrigation water and electricity to thousands of families in the province.

Salma Dam has a water storage capacity of 640 million cubic meters and an irrigation capacity of 2,00,000 acres of farmland from the Chishti Sharif District of Herat to the Zulfiqar area on the Iran Border. This dam has been India’s most expensive infrastructural project in Afghanistan in recent years.

The hydropower and irrigation project, completed against many odds and inaugurated in 2016, is known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam.

Restoration of Stor Palace: The historic 100-year-old Stor Palace located in Afghan Foreign Office premises in Kabul was restored with India’s assistance in 2016. The Stor Palace was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the President of Afghanistan on 22 August 2016. Until 1965, the building hosted the Afghan foreign minister’s and ministry’s offices. A tripartite agreement for its restoration was reached in 2009 by India, Afghanistan, and the Aga Khan Development Network.

Zaranj-Delaram highway:  The 218-kilometre highway built by the Border Roads Organisation is located close to the Afghanistan-Iran border. The 150-million highway is of strategic importance to India as it connects Delaram to the northeast of Zaranj with all major regions such as Kandahar, Ghazni, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, and Herat. 

Built at a cost of Rs 600 crore, the highway is a symbol of India’s developmental work in this country and was handed over to Afghan authorities by then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

In addition to the highway, the Indian construction team also built 58 kilometres of inner-city roads, 40 kilometres in Zaranj, 10kilometres in Gurguri and 8 kilometres connecting Gurguri to Razai.

INSTC trade route: The International North-South Transport Corridor is a 7,200-km-long multi-mode transport project for moving freight among India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

Recently, in March, earlier this year, India proposed the inclusion of Chabahar port in the INSTC route, with Jaishankar expressing hope that member states involved with the INSTC will agree on expanding membership of this project.

The location of the Chabahar port has strategic advantage and high potential to provide connectivity among India, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and other Commonwealth of Independent States countries, and boost trade. Located in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the energy-rich Iran’s southern coast, the port can be easily accessed from India’s western coast, bypassing Pakistan.

The government of India, recognising the importance of regional connectivity, made a landmark decision to undertake an overseas port investment in Chabahar, Jaishankar said. While this project had been under discussion for some time, it was during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran in 2016 that a trilateral agreement to establish an International Transport and Transit Corridor was signed by India, Iran and Afghanistan, he said.

Jaishankar said the transport and transit corridor is intended to ensure an unhindered flow of commerce throughout the region and to create a safe, and reliable route to trade initially with Afghanistan, and thereafter with Central Asia.

Other major infrastructure projects:

  • Construction of 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 kV sub-station at Chimtala to bring additional power from the northern grid to Kabul.
  • Construction and commissioning of Salma Dam power project (42 MW) in Herat province.

Healthcare projects: India also restored the Indira Gandhi Institute for Child Health built with India’s help in 1985, the largest paediatric hospital in Afghanistan.‘Indian Medical Missions’ holds free consultations camps in several areas. Also, India built healthcare centres in border provinces of Badakhshan, Balkh, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nimruz, Nooristan, Paktia and Paktika.

Other contributions: According to MEA, New Delhi had gifted 400 buses and 200 mini-buses, 105 utility vehicles for municipalities, 285 military vehicles for the Afghan National Army and 10 ambulances for government hospitals in five cities.

With inputs from agencies

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