India’s flagship assistance project — the 218-km strategic Delaram-Zaranj road, which will provide landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia access to the Arabian Sea, through the Iranian port of Chabahar — will be ready by July 17.
While Zaranj-Delaram will be connected by the Afghan highway network, the Milak bridge will link Afghanistan to Iran, giving Afghanistan and countries like Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, an alternative, non-Pakistani, route to the sea.
The Rs 600-crore road, which is being constructed by the Border Roads Organisation, guarded by Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), will also allow Indian goods to enter Afghanistan and Central Asia through the Chabahar-Zaranj route.
As of now, India is unable to send its goods to Afghanistan across Pakistani territory since Islamabad has repeatedly refused to allow transit of Indian commodities. The new route is being seen as a major opportunity to increase India’s links with Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia.
“What has not been reported in the Indian press is that this road (in the Nimroz province) has been attacked by militants every week. As many as 62 Afghan policemen have been killed (since 2004) providing protection to BRO personnel,” Jayant Prasad, Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, told the Hindustan Times.
At least five Indians have also been killed while working on this project, which has seen three suicide attacks since January this year. Clearly, this is a project that is hurting some people strategically. Already, the Iranian side has set up a customs’ facility on its side of the border, something which the Afghan authorities are going to replicate on their own territory.
“The new road will be very beneficial for Afghanistan if we have control over it,” Mahmoud Saikal, former deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan, said on Friday. Yet another project, in which India played a major role – the Pul-e-Khumri-Kabul power transmission line – will be completed by November this year – an official of the Power Grid Corporation of India.