On Donald Trump’s ‘library’ in Afghanistan jab at PM Modi, India’s take
There was no immediate response from the White House to a request for clarification if Trump’s remarks reflected a change in the administration’s policy and if India is expected to contribute troops.Updated: Jan 03, 2019, 22:23 IST
US President Donald Trump belittled India’s contribution in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan on Wednesday, drawing a sharp reaction from New Delhi on Thursday that it was committed to long-term developmental aid in the war-torn country though it would not send in troops to fight the Taliban.
During a live telecast of the opening hour of his cabinet’s meeting, Trump mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for purportedly talking about funding a library in Afghanistan and hinted, without saying so explicitly, that India, Russia and Pakistan should send troops there.
“I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi but he’s constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. That’s like… five hours of what we spend and he tells it and he’s very smart. And we’re supposed to say thank you for the library. I don’t know who’s using it in Afghanistan but… I don’t like being taken advantage of,” Trump said.
“Why isn’t Russia there? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there?” Trump rhetorically asked to make the point that the US is fighting wars for others. “Why are we there? We are 6,000 miles away,” he added, in remarks described as “bizarre”, “incoherent” and “not well-thought out” by South Asian diplomats and experts.
Officials in India’s external affairs ministry were left scratching their heads by the library reference as such a project was not completed in recent years and is not currently being implemented. India reportedly funded a library in Jalalabad but that was many years ago, experts said.
There was no immediate response from the White House to a request for a clarification if Trump’s remarks reflected a change in the administration’s policy and if India is expected to contribute troops.
People familiar with the matter said India plays a significant role as a development partner based on the specific needs and requirements of the Afghan government. India is also the largest donor in the region with development assistance exceeding $3 billion, they said.
“India firmly believes in the critical role that developmental assistance can play in transforming human lives. India does not send its armed forces abroad except under the specific mandate of UN peacekeeping operations,” a person said.
The assistance is largely in five fields – infrastructure projects, capacity building, economic development, connectivity and humanitarian assistance.
The infrastructure projects include construction of the 218-km road from Zaranj to Delaram for movement of goods to the Iranian border, construction of the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul that provides a key element of security for Afghan and US troops, the 42MW India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam or Salma dam that supplies water for irrigating 75,000 hectares, and the new Afghan Parliament built with Indian support.
In the field of connectivity, India is working on the development of Iran’s Chabahar port and has established direct air freight corridors with Afghanistan.
More than 3,500 Afghans are undergoing training programmes in India and there is a special scheme of 1,000 scholarships a year for Afghan nationals. As part of humanitarian assistance, India has supplied 1.1 million tonne of wheat to Afghanistan and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, a 400-bed hospital, is the main medical facility in Afghanistan that treats about 300,000 children every year.
As part of its economic development efforts, India has taken up 116 “high impact community development projects” in 31 provinces of Afghanistan in areas such as education, health care, agriculture, renewable energy and flood control, as well as 94 small development projects.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management, said India had made “extraordinary achievements” such as the Zaranj-Delaram highway, which was built in areas controlled by the Taliban. He added that any Indian military commitment “might significantly worsen the situation in Afghanistan”.
“India’s position on Afghanistan has been consistent, principle-driven and strategically sound while the US flip-flops have affected the Af-Pak region and even West Asia. Trump doesn’t need to be taken seriously by anyone as what he’s saying is not flowing from any wisdom or sagacity,” Sahni said.
Trump’s remarks were also criticised by a Western diplomat in Washington, who said the president had “actually justified the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan” when he said the Soviet Union entered the country in search of terrorists and stayed and got bankrupted.
An intelligence official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “He actually wants Pakistan back in there, in the fighting? They are already there — as they have been for years, fighting the war on behalf of the Taliban, who the president described as the enemy in this remarks.”