Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani inaugurated a $290-million hydroelectric dam built with Indian aid in the Afghan city of Herat on Saturday, the latest reflection of the strengthening ties between India and Afghanistan.
India has provided more than $2 billion as aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001. The inauguration of the Salma dam, also known as the Afghanistan-India friendship dam, came just five months after Modi inaugurated the new $90-million Afghan parliament built by India in Kabul.
The dam on Hari river in western Herat province, bordering Iran, will produce 42 MW of electricity and its water will irrigate 75,000 hectares. Originally built in 1976, Salma dam was extensively damage during the Afghan civil war. It was rebuilt at a cost of Rs 1,700 crore by 1,500 Indian and Afghan engineers and professionals.
The symbol of an enduring partnership. The sluice gates open at the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam pic.twitter.com/NaR1j9BBbj— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) June 4, 2016
Modi and Ghani jointly pressed a button to start the dam’s three turbines as engineers released balloons in celebration.
“With the inauguration of the ‘Afghanistan-India friendship dam’, the first such large Indian-funded project is completed,” Ghani said. “We hope that this will lead to the development of many such projects.”
“Afghans and Indians dreamt of this project in the 1970s,” Modi said. “Today the brave Afghan people are sending a message that the forces of destruction, death, denial and domination shall not prevail.”
He added, “We are reviving a region, restoring hope, renewing life and redefining Afghanistan’s future. The dam is a generator not just of electricity but also of optimism and belief in the future of Afghanistan.”
PM quotes Khwaja Moiunuddin Chisti: Humans must have affection of sun, generosity of river & hospitality of earth pic.twitter.com/6EOuf2Oy4O— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) June 4, 2016
Ties between India and Afghanistan have grown stronger at a time when Kabul has indicated it will not depend on Islamabad for bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Following a devastating suicide attack in Kabul in April that killed 64 people, Ghani called on Pakistan to take military action against the Taliban.
Pakistan, which has opposed a larger role for India in Afghanistan, has traditionally backed the Taliban and elements such as the Haqqani Network that have been linked to Indian interests and facilities in Afghanistan. Islamabad’s concerns increased after India, Afghanistan and Iran inked a deal last month to develop a transit and trade corridor around the Iranian port of Chabahar.
Modi said in his speech that India’s investment in Chabahar “will give Afghanistan a new route to the world and a new path to prosperity”. He added, “The fruits of our friendship are not confined to Kabul, Kandahar , Mazar and Herat. They will never be. Our cooperation will extend to every part of Afghanistan.”
India is currently the fifth largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan. Besides the Salma dam and the parliament building, India has built a highway from Zaranj to Delaram that will be a key part of the Chabahar transit corridor, a 220 KV transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and offered 1,000 annual scholarships to Afghan students.
Modi also thanked Afghans for putting themselves “in the line of fire” to protect Indian interests in the face of attacks. “I have seen this from the moment I assumed office as Prime Minister. For on that day, when terrorists launched a massive attack on our consulate in this city of Herat, the heroic efforts of Afghan soldiers, and of our personnel, saved many lives and prevented a big tragedy,” he said.
A few days after Modi’s visit to inaugurate the parliament building, militants launched a 25-hour siege near the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif city.
Modi hailed the Afghan people for denouncing terrorism and said divisions among them will only help those seeking to “dominate” the country from outside. When Afghanistan succeeds in defeating terrorism, the world will be “safer and more beautiful”, he added.