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Mumbai hands build Kabul roads

Transport expert Arun Mokashi is working on rebuilding Afghanistan’s transport infrastructure and the related rules. Gigil Varghese reports.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2008 02:43 IST
Gigil Varghese

When the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the 1980s, Arun Mokashi had just returned home to Mumbai from the UK with a post-graduate degree in transport, planning and management.

When the various mujahideen factions took over in 1992, he was a consultant for the multi-crore road and rail Mumbai Urban Transport Project and was debating the need for a Metro corridor here. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996, he was a transport specialist for the World Bank.

And now that the US is looking after Afghanistan, Mokashi, aided by Asian Development Bank, is one of the advisors to Afghanistan’s transport minister.

The 67-year-old is working on rebuilding Afghanistan’s transport infrastructure and the related regulations — rules that currently don’t exist.

“If there is a road accident in Afghanistan, the police may or may not record it,” said Mokashi, who is back in Mumbai after a year in Kabul since last April. “Hence private insurance providers are not interested in covering them (the people). So the driver has to pay compensation. If he doesn’t, he is bumped off.”

Mokashi has submitted a plan to overhaul insurance schemes and road safety measures. He headed a team of seven Afghan engineers and planners who assisted him in laying the foundation for new plans for bus and taxi services and transport freight charges. Another plan proposes a network of national highways and arterial roads across Afghanistan where currently no roads exist.

“If you want a car, you have to wait two months to import it and another two months to register it. All this is controlled by the police,” said Mokashi. “The transport ministry has no control over the registration fees and hence there is no transport development fund.” Mokashi, who was instrumental in the implementation of a fuel tax here, which doubles up as a transport development fund used to develop road infrastructure in Maharashtra, has proposed that a similar levy be charged in Afghanistan.

But for all the work that needs to be done, Mokashi rues the lack of skilled human resources. “Most trained staff has migrated either to Pakistan or Iran. There is a severe shortage of skilled manpower,” said Mokashi.

With two Indian road contractors being killed in Afghanistan, Mokashi said, one could not afford to be lax with one’s security. “I had to wear bullet-proof clothes every time I left the guest house. I was allowed to move only in a bullet-proof car,” said Mokashi. Once when he went to Kandahar, the UN officials were peeved. They told Mokashi that if he were abducted, the kidnappers would demand millions to release him.

But Afghans, said Mokashi, who will return to Kabul this week, love Indians. “The first thing an Afghan will ask an Indian is what he/she thinks of Tulsi in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.”