India&’s major development works in Afghanistan are going at a fast pace. The parliament building was inaugurated in Kabul last week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while another key project, the mega Salma Dam, is already nearing completion and being looked forward to by the Afghan people.
In fact, in August this year, when water started filling up the reservoirs of Salma Dam in Herat province, Afghanis were delighted at seeing the water after so many years. The grateful residents of the area went to the Indian consulate in Herat to express their gratitude to the Indian officials.
Hundreds of Afghanis had gathered to celebrate the occasion. They had carried a 100-m Indian tricolor as well as the Afghan national flag on the streets of Herat to express their gratitude.
A group of local Afghanis had sang Indian songs, including Bollywood number "Yamma Yamma", and also presented flowers to workers of the Indian consulate. Many Afghans had also expressed their thanks on Twitter to India for its reconstruction help.
India is spending $300 million on the Salma Dam project, which has been re-christened Afghan-India Friendship Dam. It is expected to produce 42 MW of electricity and water nearly 80,000 hectares of farmland, giving a fillip to agriculture in Afghanistan.
The reservoir, which is 20 km in length and 3 km in width, is expected to be completed in 2016.
The hydroelectric and irrigation project is being constructed on the Hari Rud river in Chiste Sharif district. Salma Dam was initially built in 1976, but was damaged during the war in Afghanistan.
The dam is being built by the Indian company (WAPCOS Ltd), which is under the Indian water resources ministry.
Foreign policy expert Satish Misra of think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) toldthestatesman.com: “Salma Dam is yet another example of India’s commitment to the peaceful development of war-ravaged Afghanistan. The dam is going to contribute significantly to the agricultural economy of Afghanistan.
“While it is a concrete example of the constructive bilateral cooperation between the two countries which have been traditionally and historically friends, Salma Dam could emerge as a model of cooperation if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative towards Pakistan results in improving ties between New Delhi and Islamabad”.
“Though Prime Minister Modi’s short visit to Lahore on December 25 is a beginning of the process but the fact that he was coming from Kabul has more significance than meets the ordinary eye. Improvement of Indo-Pak relations leading to normalisation of ties will also impact Afghanistan in a positive way and that is where projects like Salma Dam could be of importance,” Misra said.
Strategic expert Jai Kumar Verma feels the visit of Modi to Afghanistan has to be seen in a larger perspective.
He says, “Pakistan has kept India so much preoccupied, maybe at the behest of China, that India is not able to see things in a larger context.”
He also says that lately China, Pakistan and Russia are growing close to each other.
“If India must play a wider and pivotal role in Afghanistan, then friendship with Pakistan is essential. This is the importance of Modi&’s visit. The prime minister&’s visit to Russia and his signing 16 agreements, the $7-bn defence deal and the nuclear agreement were all to assure Russia that we are not close to the US, but we are close to you".
“Visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan were necessary, because if we have to have more projects in Afghanistan then we must have cordial relations with Pakistan so that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Pakistan do not trouble us much in Afghanistan,” he says.
“We are helping Afghanistan and Modi gave three Mi-25 attack helicopters, but we don’t want to get involved militarily,” he adds.
India has provided over $2 billion aid for development in Afghanistan and is involved in other key reconstruction projects in that country, including in road-building and energy sectors.