- Two months after the India-Afghanistan air corridor was inaugurated with great expectations, news that it has been hit by a shortage of cargo planes is a cause for concern.
- It is astounding that the initiative has been hit by logistical problems within weeks of its initiation.
- It left traders in Afghanistan with tonnes of perishable produce only because a chartered aircraft line wasn’t secured in advance.
- Officials argue that these are just teething troubles that will be resolved at the earliest.
- The question of India optimizing its efforts to secure connectivity and trade with other countries that lie to its west is on the tables.
- Despite its commitment of $2 billion in development aid to Afghanistan, there are some new infrastructure projects that the government has taken up in the past few years.
- The big ones, mostly planned a decade ago, have been complete, including the Zaranj Delaram highway (which connects to Iran), the Herat dam, the Doshi-Charikar power project, and the construction of Afghanistan’s parliament complex.
- In addition, India’s plans for the Chabahar port in Iran and the trilateral agreement to develop transit trade also need close attention.
- The trilateral agreement has yet to be ratified in Iran, and tenders by India Ports Global Limited to develop berths as well as the railway line connecting Chabahar to the Afghan border at Zahedan (first planned in 2011) continue to be delayed.
- Similarly, there has not been sufficient follow-through on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline after its inauguration in 2015.
- Eventually, India’s dealings with both Afghanistan and Iran are not just about circumventing Pakistan.
- Opening up of important new connectivity and commerce avenues, as well as develop markets in Central Asia, and through them to Russia and Europe is required.
- Regional connectivity needs more managerial will than just ribbon-cutting ceremonies and grandly announced plans that run aground when the government’s focus shifts elsewhere.
India’s several infrastructure projects
Zaranj Delaram highway
- Delaram–Zaranj Highway, also known as Route 606.
- Its length is about 200km.
- It connects Delaram (border city of Afghanistan) to Zaranj (Capital of Nimruz province of Afghanistan).
- India totally financed this project. (about 600 crore rupees).
- Border Roads Organization (BRO) of India, has constructed this highway.
- Construction started in 2005, and in 2009 the road was opened for public use.
- During the construction of this highway, Taliban killed about 130 workers, including 4 Indians from BRO.
The Herat Dam / Salma Dam
- Salma Dam is a hydroelectric power project that is built on the Hari River in Afghanistan’s Herat province.
- Since it was funded by the Indian Government, it is also known as Afghan-India Friendship Dam.
- The plant has a power generation capacity of 42 MW and is also a major irrigation resource that can irrigate 75,000 hectares of agricultural land.
- The dam location was connected by a 150-km dirt road to Herat.
- Nearest human habitation is also at least 50 km away from the dam.
- However, braving all odds and in extremely difficult conditions, the workers stayed on location for years and finished the work. The Dam was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on June 4, 2016.
- The Indian Cabinet revised the cost to $273.3 million in 2013.
- A key contributor for the construction was Indian Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited which commissioned two 14 MW units in the dam.
- The gross capacity of the dam is 633 Million M3 and has a catchment area of 11,700 sq km.
- The height of the dam is 104.3 meters, length 540 metres and width at the bottom is 450 metres.
The Doshi-Charikar power project
- The 220/20 kilovolt substations will provide power to northern Afghanistan’s Charikar and Doshi regions.
- Charikar is around 60km from greater Kabul, and Doshi is about 150km from the capital.
- The project has been executed by BHEL on [an engineering, procurement and construction] basis.
- Inaugurated by Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Indian Ambassador Amar Sinha, the substations are part of a 220-kilovolt transmission line between the northern city of Phul e-Khumri and Kabul.
The construction of Afghanistan’s parliament complex
- Described as ‘India’s symbolic gift of democracy to Afghanistan’, the new Afghan parliament building is all set for a formal inauguration with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to visit capital Kabul for the inauguration ceremony.
- The construction work of the new parliament building started in 2009 by India’s premier government-owned construction agency, Central Public Works Department (CPWD), with an estimated construction cost of $90 million.
- One of the key features of the new parliament building is its dome which is said to be one of the largest among the parliaments in Asia.
The Chabahar port in Iran
- The Chabahar deal and the India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral dialogue that took place during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’sMay 2016 visit to Tehran.
- While there is a larger focus within the country on India’s foreign policy push, it is also being viewed with much suspicion in Pakistan and with interest, in Iran and Afghanistan.
- India’s transfer of USD 6.4 billion part payment of total sum owed to Iran that was held up due to sanctions– earlier this year could be as a stepping stone for the bilateral relationship.
- The May 2016 dialogue, the first New Delhi-Tehran bilateral meeting in 15 years – signifies a clear strategy for India’s interest in Iran.
- Tehran has been New Delhi’s friend and the revival of the bilateral depended on the lifting of sanctions.
- Chabahar is a strategic port from the perspectives of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other than the easy access from the western coasts of India, it plays several significant roles.