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Democracy not the preserve of the West: Karzai

Siddharth Varadarajan

Former King Zahir Shah lays the foundation stone


  • Project is part of New Delhi's quiet emphasis on infrastructure creation in Afghanistan
  • Two chambers — for the Wolesi Jirga and the Meshrano Jigra — to be constructed

    PHOTO: PTI

    ARCHITECTS OF DEMOCRACY: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and former king of Afghanistan, Zahir Shah, talks after laying the foundation stone of the new Parliament building in Kabul on Monday.

    KABUL: In a brief but moving ceremony which underscored India's intimate involvement in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, the former King, Zahir Shah, on Monday laid the foundation stone for a new parliament building to be constructed with Indian assistance.

    Speaking to an invited audience at the construction site, Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed his "most sincere thanks" to India for its help. India, he said, is a country that has shown that democracy is not the preserve of the Western world alone. In his own remarks on the occasion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the roots of a plant were being laid which will, "through your nurturing and care, grow into a sturdy `panja chinar' of democracy." Earlier, Zahir Shah — now called Baba-e-Millat, or `father of the nation' — had told the Prime Minister that the new parliament building would symbolise the partnership between the "world's largest and newest democracies."

    The parliament project is part of New Delhi's quiet emphasis on infrastructure creation in Afghanistan, say senior Indian officials. Though the $550 million pledged so far makes India only the sixth-largest donor country, virtually all the Indian money was going towards the creation of tangible public assets such as buildings, roads, buses and hospital equipment. The Habibia High School — renovated by India and inaugurated on Sunday — is one example. The Tata buses, which form the backbone of Kabul's public transport system, are another. On Monday, the Prime Minister's wife, Gursharan Kaur, visited the Indira Gandhi hospital in Kabul and announced the provision of $2 million for a new neo-natal centre.

    The new National Assembly will come up on the western fringes of Kabul, virtually in the shadow of the bombed-out shell that is the Darulaman Palace, built by King Amanullah in the 1920s. This sector saw the heaviest fighting between rival mujahideen groups in the aftermath of the fall of the leftist Najibullah government in the 1990s.

    At the foundation laying ceremony, an Indian engineer, Anshuman Chakravarti, made a power-point presentation of the architectural plans for the complex, which include the construction of two chambers as well as a library and prayer hall.

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