With Pakistan on mind, India, Afghanistan open crucial road (Lead)

January 23rd, 2009 - 12:21 am ICT by IANS  

TalibanNew Delhi/Kabul, Jan 22 (IANS) Undeterred by a resurgent Taliban, India and Afghanistan Thursday formally opened a crucial road link that can reduce Pakistan’s influence over its landlocked neighbour, and mounted pressure on Islamabad by asking all countries to stop terror emanating from its soil. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee jointly inaugurated the 218-km landmark highway that links Zaranj on the Iran-Afghan border and Delaram in south Afghanistan, and underlined their commitment to combat terrorism.

“The project symbolised India’s strong commitment towards the development of Afghanistan,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement in New Delhi after Mukherjee returned home from his two-day visit to Afghanistan Thursday evening.

The road that promises more trade and prosperity to the Afghan people will reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan for overland access to Iran and Central Asia. It will also provide to India an alternative route to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India currently is dependent on Pakistan for overland access to transport relief material meant for that country.

Mukherjee met Karzai and his Afghan counterpart Rangin Dadfar Spanta and discussed ways of intensifying counter-terror cooperation in the wake of the Mumbai mayhem, and a coordinated strategy of dealing with terror both sides believe is orchestrated by elements across the border.

Afghanistan joined hands in mounting pressure on Islamabad to honour its anti-terror pledge by acting against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage.

“Both sides reaffirmed their strong commitment to combat terrorism and reiterated that all countries should comply with their multilateral and international obligations and should fully control terrorist activities emanating from the sanctuaries and camps located within their territory,” the external affairs ministry said here.

Both countries face “same terrorism from the same source”, Spanta said. Although he did not name Pakistan, the reference was not lost on anyone.

“In our region, there are some entities who use terrorism as tool for foreign policy. This should end,” the Afghan foreign minister said.

The construction of the road in the face of a hostile Taliban and a suspicious Pakistan is seen as a triumph of Indian diplomacy in a country that not too long ago under the Taliban regime had become virtually inaccessible.

“The completion of the road reflects the determination of both India and Afghanistan that nothing can prevent or hinder collaboration between the two countries,” Mukherjee said at the handover function in Delaram, the capital of Nimroz province, while describing the project as “a glowing example” of India-Afghanistan cooperation.

“Our cooperation will not stop,” Karzai said while stressing that the completion of the road was a message to those who are against friendship between the two countries.

The construction of the road, built by nearly 300-odd workers and engineers from India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO), at a cost of $150 million was bitterly opposed by the Taliban and its backers across the border, who have targeted Indian workers involved with the project over the years.

With these attacks on mind, Mukherjee said: “Our project personnel did face many challenges in the implementation of the project… In effect, one human sacrifice was made for every kilometre and a half constructed.”

It will further regional cooperation by encouraging new trade and transit through Iranian ports and a supplementary access of Afghanistan to the sea, he said.

At least six Indians, including a BRO driver and four ITBP soldiers, have been killed in these attacks led by the Taliban militants aiming to discourage India’s increasing involvement in Afghanistan.

The inauguration of the road was kept a top secret due to security reasons. The highway was completed a few months ago and was to be inaugurated last year.

But the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the Mumbai terrorist attacks last year delayed the plans for a formal opening of the road that is seen as a symbol of India’s unflinching commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and an assertion of its strategic interests in that country.

India has pledged $1.2 billion to Afghanistan for different reconstruction projects ranging from roads and bridges to power stations and parliament in which over 2,000 Indians are involved.

India will also shortly be completing the Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul transmission line and sub-station at Chimtala. New Delhi also plans to construct an additional sub-station at Charikar.

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