India builds Af dam against all odds

India builds Af dam against all odds

The inauguration of the $290-million Afghan-India Friendship Dam in Afghanistan’s Herat province is heartening. This was a difficult project from the start. Among the many challenges was the fierce opposition from Pakistan and the Taliban to India’s participation in the project. While the Taliban was opposed to any development in the country, Pakistan objected to India’s growing profile in Afghanistan. There were plots to blow up the dam, and workers on the project came under attack. Indian workers travelled to the remote project site by helicopter to avoid Taliban attacks en route. Refusing to be cowed down by such intimidation, India persisted with the project’s implementation. The Afghan-India Friendship Dam is therefore a symbol of India’s strong, steadfast and sustained support to Afghanistan’s development. In fact, this was a point that Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised at the dam’s inauguration; India’s “relationship (with Afghanistan) is timeless,” he said, stressing that India would always stand by Afghanistan. Built across the River Harirud in 1976, the Salma dam as it was called then was damaged during the decades of civil war. India stepped in with funds, expertise and commitment in 2002. The Afghan-India Friendship Dam will irrigate 75,000 hectares of land and generate 42 MW of power. It will thus stimulate Afghanistan’s agriculture and industrial growth and light up homes in Herat. The dam could provide a lifeline to millions of Afghans living in the western Afghanistan that has been ravaged not only by war but also, reeling under  severe drought conditions for over 15 years.

In December, India gifted the parliament building in Kabul to the Afghan people. This symbolised India’s support to democracy in Afghanistan. The dam project signals India’s support to Afghanistan’s economic development. India has provided over $2 billon dollars towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and this has gone towards building roads and other social and physical infrastructure. It must persist with this focus on reconstruction as this is generating enormous goodwill for India among the Afghan people.

Iran is reported to be uneasy with the Afghan-India Friendship Dam’s impact on water flow into Iran. That would have impact not only on agriculture in Iran but also, Afghan-Iran bilateral relations. As the upper riparian country, Afghanistan must be sensitive to the water needs of Iran. But then, Iran should avoid bullying its weaker neighbour. Only recently, the two countries together with India signed an agreement envisaging cooperation on a trade and transit corridor from Chabahar port to Central Asia via Afghanistan. That agreement’s enormous potential will be in jeopardy if Iran-Afghan relations sour over water-sharing.

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