India has raised fresh concerns about the safety of BRO (Border Roads Organisation) personnel working in Afghanistan following intelligence warnings that Taliban operatives might be plotting strikes against Indian camps. In the wake of a rash of attacks on BRO camps topped by an assault on a convoy in broad daylight last week, the government has asked Afghanistan to provide more security to these personnel.
Over 300 BRO men are engaged in the construction of the Rs 682-crore Zaranj-Delaram highway, a 218-km road stretch that will serve as an important trade corridor between Iran and Central Asia. After taking up the project in 2005, the BRO has completed work on 110 km.
BRO director general Lieutenant General KS Rao told HT, "In terms of construction work, we have covered the most difficult stretches. But on the security front, we will be facing new challenges from now on. Earlier, camps were being targeted during night, but last week BRO personnel came under attack during the day. We have asked the authorities there to upgrade security."
Security of personnel came under sharp focus after a BRO worker was abducted and later killed by the Taliban in November 2005. To prevent the recurrence of such an incident, over 230 ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) personnel have been tasked with guarding camps along the highway. Taliban allegedly attacked a BRO convoy last week near Gurguri, which is halfway between Zaranj and Delaram.
BRO personnel have been asked to remain in a state of high alert, General Rao said. Once the project is completed, Kabul will have direct connectivity with the Chah- Bahar port in Iran and trade would no longer have to be routed through Bander Abbas and Herat, which requires travelling an extra distance of 1,000 km.
The highway will link up with the Afghanistan garland road and provide connectivity with energy-rich Central Asia. The project cost of the highway was revised last year from Rs 377 crore to Rs 682 crore in the wake of worsening security situation.
The Defence Ministry is waiting for the Ministry of External Affairs to approve the revised estimates. While initially the deadline for the project was 2007-end, BRO is unlikely to wind up work before mid-2008. However, trade has already picked up between Zaranj and Delaram with half of the project completed. General Rao said, "Earlier it took up to 18 hours to travel from Zaranj to Delaram. Now the distance can be done in barely eight to 10 hours." Over 500 heavy vehicles ply on this stretch daily compared to a handful a few months ago.