Script by Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, Associate Editor, Hindustan Times
India and Afghanistan last week signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the construction of the Shatoot dam that is expected to provide safe drinking water to around two million residents in Kabul.
While the dam has been part of official declarations between the two countries since 2017, a formal announcement of the agreement was made by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the Geneva Donors’ Conference in November 2020.
The MoU reflected India’s strong and long-term commitment towards the socio-economic development of Afghanistan and the enduring partnership between the two countries.
“India is standing together with you during every step of your journey. No external force can stop the development of Afghanistan or the friendship between India and Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the signing of the agreement.
Prime Minister Modi and Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani led the respective sides during the virtual signing ceremony between Jaishankar and his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar.
Prime Minister Modi highlighted the civilisational relationship between the two countries and assured Kabul of India’s continued support for a peaceful, united, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan.
He further said the success of Afghanistan will reflect India’s success and success of the South Asian region.
India is one of the biggest regional donors of Afghanistan and has pledged $3.1 billion to the country since the Taliban regime was overthrown in November 2001.
As a part of its development cooperation, India has so far completed over 400 projects covering all 34 provinces of Afghanistan. India’s pledges totalling $3 billion make it largest donor in the region. Last year, India shipped 75,000 tonnes of wheat as an aid to Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port.
Besides, India also became the first country in the world to ship 5,00,000 doses of its Covishield coronavirus vaccine to Afghanistan in the first week of February. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it had also sent crucial medicines such as HCQ and paracetamol to Kabul.
Last year, India announced the launch of Phase-IV of high impact community development projects in Afghanistan, which envisage over 100 projects worth $80 million. These projects were found to have very high levels of popular support and participation, prompting India to replicate the model in other neighbouring countries as well.
India’s reconstruction initiatives in Afghanistan extend to several spheres including, health, agriculture, drinking water, education, renewable energy, infrastructure and skills development, and capacity building.
New Delhi has also helped the neighbouring country in its effort to strengthen its military and police forces and trained thousands of Afghan defence and security personnel.
Among the many mega infrastructure projects being carried out by India in the neighbouring country, the Afghan Parliament is one of them.
Shahtoot dam is the second major dam being built by India in Afghanistan, after the Friendship Dam or Salma dam, inaugurated by Modi and Ghani in June 2016.
Afghanistan’s Charge d’Affaires to Delhi Tahir Qadiry while highlighting the need to address the scarcity of water in Kabul insisted that the agreement indicated continuity of brotherly cooperation between the two nations but with ever-growing resoluteness and profoundness.
The dam will also provide water for irrigation to nearby areas, rehabilitate the existing irrigation and drainage network and help in flood protection and management efforts. The project is expected to produce electricity for the region.
The move is expected to further upset Pakistan, which has resented the ever-growing friendly relations between India and Afghanistan.
In the past, Pakistan had opposed any plans to build the dam on a tributary of the Kabul river that flows into its Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, saying the project will reduce the flow of water. It had also accused India of choking its water supplies from Kashmir and Afghanistan.
But terrorism and extremism have been the main concerns of India and Afghanistan.
Violence has escalated in Afghanistan as the second round of peace talks in Doha earlier this month between the government and the Taliban remained inconclusive. In the fresh spate of attacks, extremists have targeted innocent citizens, journalists and workers.
“Violence and peace counteract each other and both cannot co-exist. As close neighbours and strategic partners both India and Afghanistan want to see our region free from the problems of terrorism and extremism,” Prime Minister Modi said.
To see an end to violence, India has supported an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in the neighbouring country.
“India supports a peace process that is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan controlled,” Prime Minister Modi said.