Kabul dam construction may rekindle Indo-Pak water row

Last Updated 21 September 2018, 11:24 IST

India is set to help build a dam in the Kabul river basin in Afghanistan, a project which may raise hackles in Pakistan.

New Delhi has agreed to support the Afghan government build the Shahtoot Dam near Kabul, more than two years after completing the Salma Dam at Herat province of western Afghanistan, the last in a series of major infrastructure projects New Delhi embarked upon since 2001 to help in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

India’s decision to support the construction of the Shahtoot Dam was formally conveyed to Afghanistan when the senior officials of the two governments met in Kabul recently for the second meeting of Joint Working Group on Development Cooperation (JWG-DC), sources in New Delhi told DH.

T S Tirumurti, secretary (economic relations), at the Ministry of External Affairs, and Ismail Rahimi, Deputy Minister of Policy and Technical Affairs at the Ministry of Economy of Government of Afghanistan, co-chaired the meeting of India-Afghanistan JWG-DC.

The Shahtoot Dam is proposed to be built in Chahar Asiab district near Kabul. The dam will be built on a tributary of Kabul river, which originates from Sanglakh Range of Hindu Kush Mountain and flows through Kabul, Surobi and Jalalabad in Afghanistan before flowing into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

Jittery Islamabad

New Delhi’s plan to support Kabul build the Shahtoot Dam is likely to evoke protest from Pakistan, which has since long been jittery about India’s role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Islamabad is of the view that the proposed dam, as well as similar projects on the Kabul river and its tributaries in Afghanistan, will reduce the flow of water into Pakistan.

Islamabad has over the past few years been nudging Afghanistan to sign a treaty on sharing of water of Kabul river and its tributaries. The proposal, however, has not yet received a positive response from the Afghan government, which fears that such a treaty might make it difficult for it to go ahead with its plan to build irrigation and hydro-electric projects in the Kabul river basin.

Pakistan has a water-sharing treaty with India. The World Bank brokered the negotiation between India and Pakistan on the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), which was finally signed by the two nations in 1960. The IWT provided a legal framework to India and Pakistan for managing the water resources of the cross-border rivers.

Islamabad, however, has been blaming New Delhi for constructing hydro-electric projects on cross-border rivers, resulting in lesser water flowing into Pakistan.

Pakistan has been using the IWT's provisions to raise objections to the hydro-electric projects conceived by India as well as to slow down construction of some of them.

Construction of the Shahtoot Dam may cost $ 300 million. It will help provide potable water to over two million residents of Kabul city, apart from irrigating 4000 hectares land in Chahar Asiab and Khairabad in the vicinity of the capital city of Afghanistan. It will also help provide drinking water for the first phase of the new city at Dehsabz in the outskirts of Kabul.

India in Afghanistan

India has since 2001 pledged about $ 2 billion for a series of development projects in Afghanistan.

The projects supported by New Delhi include construction of a 218 km road from Zaranj to Delaram for facilitating movement of goods and services to and from Afghanistan’s border with Iran; construction of 220 KV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 KV sub-station in Chimtala; construction of new Afghan Parliament building and renovation of Stor Palace in Kabul; upgrading telephone exchanges in 11 provinces; expansion of national TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals of the country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President M Ashraf Ghani on June 4, 2016, inaugurated the Salma Dam (rechristened as Afghan-India Friendship Dam) on Hari river in Herat Province in eastern Afghanistan. New Delhi spent over Rs 1,775 crore to build the Salma Dam, which has an installed capacity of generating 42 MW of power apart from providing irrigation for 75,000 hectares of farmland.

India, however, refrained from committing itself to any new major infrastructure project in Afghanistan over the past few years, ostensibly in view of the worsening security scenario in the country with the resurgence of Taliban.

The Taliban as well as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Haqqani Network and other terrorist organisations based in Pakistan carried out several attacks in the past, targeting not only on India’s diplomatic and consular missions in Afghanistan but also on its citizens engaged in development projects in the war-torn country. New Delhi has been blaming Pakistan’s military spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence for using the terror outfits for the attacks on India’s missions and its citizens in Afghanistan.

India rather focused on building small development projects in Afghanistan over the past couple of years, with 115 such projects being completed last year and 108 more agreed upon this year. In September 2016, India pledged an addition $ 1 billion for capacity building programmes in education, health and agriculture as well as for empowerment of women and strengthening of democratic institutions.

After Salma Dam, the Shahtoot Dam is going to be the first major infrastructure project for New Delhi to support in Afghanistan.

The meeting of the JWG-DC in Kabul last Thursday also saw India agreeing to support several other “small, medium and large-scale projects for implementation in the near future” in Afghanistan, including low cost housing for the returning refugees in Nangarhar Province, polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif and construction of road connecting Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province to the Bamyan-Yakawlang Highway, according to a press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi.

“Both sides underscored the importance of safety and security of Indian personnel involved in development projects in Afghanistan. The Afghan side assured their cooperation in ensuring the security of the Indian personnel,” the MEA stated in the press release issued after the JWG-DC meeting.

(Published 13 August 2018, 08:23 IST)

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