External affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar.(File photo)
External affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar.(File photo)

India to build new dam, launch projects worth $80 million in Afghanistan

India’s development portfolio of more than $3 billion is aimed at building the capabilities of the Afghan people and institutions with the aim of improving governance, said external affairs minister S Jaishankar
By Rezaul H Laskar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 24, 2020 04:46 PM IST

India on Tuesday unveiled new development initiatives for Afghanistan, including a dam to supply water to Kabul and 150 community projects worth $80 million, even as it called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in the war-torn country.

Against the backdrop of mounting global concern over increased attacks by the Taliban even as it engages the Afghan government in talks, external affairs minister S Jaishankar told a virtual international pledging conference that India is committed to a long-term role for the development of Afghanistan.

India’s development portfolio of more than $3 billion is aimed at building the capabilities of the Afghan people and institutions with the aim of improving governance, he said. “There is no part of Afghanistan today untouched by our 400-plus projects spread across all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan,” he added.

Also read | After India, Afghanistan rejects Pakistan’s so-called terror dossier

Jaishankar announced an agreement with Afghanistan to build Shahtoot Dam in the Kabul river basin to provide drinking water to two million residents of Kabul city. This will be built on the 202-km Pul-e-Khumri electricity transmission line built in 2009 to provide power to the city.

India will also launch some 150 projects worth $80 million as part of the fourth phase of its high impact community development projects initiative, he said. This initiative is focused on smaller projects that can be completed speedily to benefit people in villages and districts.

At the same time, Jaishankar expressed concern at the recent spike in violence in Afghanistan, which he described as a contiguous neighbour. “Increasing level of violence in Afghanistan naturally remains a matter of grave concern. While we support all efforts to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan, India calls for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire. We also believe the peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled,” he said.

“India has invested heavily in peace and development in Afghanistan. We strongly believe the gains of the last two decades must be preserved, and that the interests of minorities, women and vulnerable sections must be ensured,” he added.

Negotiating teams of the Taliban and the Afghan government have struggled to reach common ground in their talks in Doha even as international concern has grown about a spate of recent attacks, including a terrorist assault on Kabul University this month that killed nearly 30 people.

Jaishankar said India’s developmental aid for Afghanistan was of five types – large infrastructure projects such as the 218-km Delaram-Zaranj road that provides alternative connectivity through Iran, the India-Afghanistan friendship dam and the Parliament building, human resource development, humanitarian assistance, high impact community projects and enhancing trade and investment through air and land connectivity.

More than 65,000 students have studied in India under scholarship programmes, and 15,000 students are currently in India. Some 3,000 scholarships have been provided to Afghan women for higher studies, and vocational education is being provided to an increasing number of women in Afghanistan.

However, Afghanistan’s growth has been constrained by its land-locked geography, and the India-developed Chabahar port in Iran has provided alternative connectivity that helped transport 75,000 tonnes of wheat and more than 20 tonnes of medicines and equipment during the Covid-19 pandemic, Jaishankar said.

The 2020 Afghanistan Conference is being co-hosted in Geneva by the governments of Afghanistan and Finland with the UN during November 23–24. In addition to pledges of financial support, a new development framework, a joint political declaration and a new aid architecture for Afghanistan’s development needs will be drawn up during the conference.

The European Union pledged $1.2 billion to Afghanistan for the next four years at the conference. Several ministers, including Canada’s international development minister Karina Gould, called on the Taliban to declare an immediate ceasefire.

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