Close on the heels of signing the trilateral agreement on Chahbahar with Afghanistan and Iran, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi visited Afghanistan to inaugurate the Salma Dam in the Herat Province of western Afghanistan.
The $300 million dam reconstructed by India has been rechristened the Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam by the Afghan government to recognise the efforts of India to support the rebuilding process in Afghanistan. Also, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, conferred Modi with Afghanistan’s highest civilian honour, the Amir Aminullah Khan Award.
Referring to the strong India-Afghan ties, Modi remarked “This dam has not been built by bricks and mortar, but by the faith of our friendship and the valour of Afghans and Indians”.
The hydro-electric and irrigation project would help to irrigate 80,000 hectares of land and generate 42 MW of electricity. Thus, besides addressing power shortages, it would support agricultural and industrial activities in the western zone of the country.
Underlining the imperative of regional cooperation, Ghani said, “This dam, in addition to its vital function of bringing light, joy and hope to the homes of thousands of Afghans in the area, also has a symbolic role in charting a new course that is the need of the world and region in the twenty first century: (that is) the course of cooperation for prosperity..”
This was Modi’s second trip to Afghanistan in less than six months. In his maiden trip in December 2015, he inaugurated the Afghan Parliament, which was built by India and presented Mi-25 attack helicopters.
The two countries have a comprehensive and wide-ranging cooperation agenda, which is based on historical and friendly ties and mutual respect and trust. India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj on her visit to Kabul in 2014, stated India’s commitment to be Afghanistan’s “first strategic partner”. While, Indian developmental and humanitarian programmes in Afghanistan have earned India a special place in the hearts of the Afghans.
As the global economic dynamism is shifting to Asia, and India and China are emerging as economic juggernauts with increasing influence in the international affairs, Afghanistan could play a pertinent role in unleashing the regional economic potential. Moreover, both Delhi and Beijing could play an important role in stabilising Afghanistan, and thus the region, by developing Afghanistan as an economic bridge between South Asia and Central Asia, Middle East, Europe and beyond by capitalising on its geo-strategic location as well as mineral and energy resources.
Afghanistan has always emphasised regional cooperation as a pivotal factor for the stability and prosperity for the entire region. It has undertaken a host of initiatives to promote regional integration and establish a conducive environment for the growth of private sector and attract foreign capital.
In January 2016, after eleven long years of negotiation, Afghanistan got accession to WTO. It is an active member of various regional associations and initiatives like the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) and the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process.
It is working to revive the Silk route and the Lapis Lazulli route and to realise regional projects, among others, such as the Five Nations Railway; the Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan Railway; the TAPI gas pipeline; CASA-1000 and the Chahbahar port agreement.
The recently signed Chahbahar Agreement is a step in the right direction. The Agreement would act as a ‘game changer’ and help to reap benefits of geographical contiguity, scale economies, regional production networks and spur economic growth in the entire region.
It is envisaged as a complementing, and not a competing route to other sub-regional networks and other countries could be part of the project. Efforts need to be made to exploit multimodal linkages along Trans Asian Railway and the Asian Highway networks and interconnections with International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway, Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, Bangladesh-Bhutan-Indian-Nepal (BBIN) network, India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highway and other important sub-regional corridors.
Integrating the region would help to have a spiralling impact on regional trade and commerce, strengthen people-to-people connects in the region, and help to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The region must come together to resolve common challenges and differences, especially those that threaten security, peaceful co-existence, economic stability, prosperity and progress in the region.
Sayed Mujtaba Ahmadi is deputy chief of Mission and economic counsellor at the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in India
The views expressed are personal