Modi's 'friendship dam' is historic for Afghanistan

M Reyaz
M ReyazJun 04, 2016 | 21:28

Modi's 'friendship dam' is historic for Afghanistan

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was awarded the Amir Amanullah Khan Award, Afghanistan's highest civilian honour on June 4 by Afghanistan's president Dr Ashraf Ghani before the two inaugurated the the much awaited multipurpose Salma Dam in the western Afghan province of Herat that has now been renamed as "Afghanistan-India Friendship Dam".

Modi termed the dam as "generator of optimism and belief in future of Afghanistan" and not just of electricity. He said that it has not just been built by bricks and mortars but "by faith of our friendship and the valour of Afghans and Indians". He also thanked the people of Afghanistan for their warmth and "belief" in India; and dedicated it to the people Afghanistan from the 1.2 billion people of India.

PM Modi inaugurates the Salma dam with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani. 

Built at a cost of nearly $300 million, the landmark infrastructure project undertaken by New Delhi on river Chist-e-Sharif in Herat is one of India's most expensive overseas projects and is seen as "symbol of enduring partnership" between two countries.

The project has been executed and implemented by WAPCOS Ltd, a GoI undertaking under the ministry of water resources, river development and ganga rejuvenation. This multipurpose project will generate 43 megawatt of electricity and help irrigate 75,000 hectares of land.

The project gains strategic significance as only two weeks ago both PM Modi and President Ghani had met in Tehran, Iran to sign a tripartite trade deal with Iran over Chahbahar port.

Once ready, this port will give Afghanistan an alternative route to sea and help India connect with Central Asia. In December last year, work on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India or TAPI pipeline had also began that is seen as new phase in regional cooperation although apprehensions still abound on its completion.

Earlier President Ghani welcomed PM Modi to what he termed as "second home" and expressed his gratitude not only for this project but for lasting friendship and cooperation. He said that this 'Friendship Dam' is "prologue to construction of many dams."


He termed the project another historic symbol of cooperation and a "big step in deepening and broadening the relationship between Afghanistan and India".  Both of them had reiterated historical and cultural linkages as PM Modi wished the president for Ramzan and Eid.

The dam was planned 40 years ago in the 1970s and was built in 1976, but was severely damaged during the civil wars in 1990s. India renewed its commitment in 2006 and, in 2007, work began on the project once again with close to 1,500 Indian and Afghan engineers working together.

Due to several hiccups and delays initially everyone was apprehensive about the project; but when in July 2015 photographs of the almost complete dam began circulating on social media, Afghans were elated and brought out a celebratory march in Kabul thanking the Indian government and its people.

Afghans in general and residents of the western province of Herat in particular have welcomed the project and celebrated it for weeks, cutting cakes and thanking the Indian government.

On social media, young Afghans are thanking and appreciating India's commitment, calling the two countries "borderless neighbours."

PM Modi tweeted both in Pashto and Dari on his arrival and that has hit the right chord with the proud Afghan people, who are sharing the screenshots of his tweets on social media.


This is his second trip to Afghanistan, which India regards as a "development partner".

In December last year, PM Modi inaugurated the new Parliament building that was built by India for Kabul at a cost of $90 million.

India as Afghanistan's 'development partner'

India is the first country with which Afghanistan signed strategic deal in 2011 and in during prime minister's last visit, India finally gifted long held requests of three helicopters.

India has helped complete nearly 200 small and mega projects in Afghanistan in last 15 years, including building hospitals, dams, transmission plants, et al and through scholarship assistance, over 17,000 Afghan youth could get access to higher education. Each year, India gives 1,000 scholarships to Afghan students to study in various universities and colleges across the country.

PM Modi had announced additional scholarships for 500 children of martyred Afghan security personnel during his last visit.

When new governments took over both in Delhi and Kabul in 2014, relations had taken a beating as Ghani was earlier trying to get closer to Pakistan in the hope of brokering a deal with Taliban.

During his visit to New Delhi in April last year, Ghani sought to dispel India's concern as he hoped to not fight a "proxy war" and instead become a "roundabout" for regional trade.

Since 2002, India has stood by Afghanistan and helped build several infrastructure projects as part of its promised development assistance programme of more than $2 billion. Afghanistan, in fact, represents a victory of India's "soft power" and its efforts have been appreciated by even common Afghans.

In 2014, the then Indian minister of external affairs Salman Khursid inaugurated the first national agriculture university of Afghanistan, a major capacity-building project backed by India in Kandahar, infamous for the Air India plane hijack.

India also runs the Indira Gandhi Children's hospital in Kabul and has, in fact, undertaken a number of large and medium infrastructure projects in the country in the past one decade, including the construction of a 218km road from Zaranj to Delaram for better connectivity from the Iranian border, the 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and three other substations.

Once the Chahbahar port opens in Iran, the highway will also help cut Afghanistan's dependence on the Karachi port for sea connectivity.

India also trains Afghan security personnel, government officials, media professionals, parliamentarians, and others. And many Afghans come for treatment to India, particularly to New Delhi.

As PM Modi wished for peace and cooperation, he also hoped to see the Afghanistan cricket team play and succeed in test ant IPL as well.

None of the Afghan players yet play in IPL, but there has been demand from some quarters after their success in last T20 world cup.

This was perhaps a tacit hint that some of the players may soon get an opportunity. It should be noted that only last year, India provided a "home ground" to fledging Afghan cricket team in Greater Noida for practice.

The visiting Prime Minister reiterated India's commitment in helping rebuild Afghanistan, adding, "Your friendship is our honour; your dreams are our duty."  

Afghanistan was the first stop for PM Modi in his latest five-nation tour. His next stop is Qatar, after which he will go to Switzerland, USA and Mexico before returning home.

Last updated: June 04, 2016 | 21:28
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