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India hands over strategic highway to Afghanistan

Delaram- Zaranj highway project is a glowing example of India-Afghanistan cooperation, says Pranab

— Photo: AP/ Presidential Palace

ROAD TO FRIENDSHIP: Afghan President Hamid Karzai (second right) with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee (third from left) after the inauguration of the Delaram-Zaranj highway built with Indian assistance, in Nimroz province, Afghanistan, on Thursday.

Delaram (South Afghanistan): Reflecting its determination to carry on development work in war-ravaged Afghanistan, India on Thursday handed over the strategic Delaram-Zaranj highway built by it braving Taliban attacks in which some Indians were killed.

Built at a cost of Rs.600 crore, the 215-km long highway, a symbol of India’s developmental work in this country, was handed over to the Afghan authorities by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in the presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

“The completion of the road reflects the determination of both India and Afghanistan that nothing can prevent or hinder collaboration between the two countries,” Mr. Mukherjee said at a function to mark the handover of the highway.

Mr. Karzai said the completion of the project, which opened a shorter alternative route connecting Kabul to Iran, was a message to those who want to stop cooperation between India and Afghanistan. “Our cooperation will not stop,” he said.

The highway provides India easy and alternate access for its goods to Afghanistan via Iran.

This is significant because Pakistan has been denying transit facility to India for Afghanistan through its territory.

Attacks by Taliban

The Taliban was opposed to this project and launched frequent attacks on the construction workers. A total of six Indians, including a Border Roads Organisation driver and four ITBP soldiers, and 129 Afghans were killed in the attacks.

“Our project personnel did face many challenges in the implementation of the project... in effect one human sacrifice was made for every kilometre and a half constructed,” Mr. Mukherjee said. He described the completion of the project as “a glowing example” of the India-Afghanistan cooperation.

Paying homage to those who made the “supreme sacrifice” during the construction of the highway, Mr. Mukherjee said, “I do believe that their blood was not shed in vain. Their sacrifice will fortify the foundation of India-Afghanistan friendship and that spirit will motivate us to usher in our future cooperation.”

The project would further regional cooperation by encouraging new trade and transit through Iranian ports and a supplementary access of Afghanistan to the sea.

Besides the highway, Mr. Mukherjee said, India constructed 58 km of inner city roads in Afghanistan. Compared to the cost of other roads built in Afghanistan, the total cost of the highway project was modest.

The project was initially estimated to cost Rs. 740 crore but the Border Roads Organisation completed it in Rs 600 crore and six months ahead of schedule, general manager of the BRO project Brig. N R K Babu, said.

The 339 engineers of the BRO completed the highway construction in three years.

On attempts to disrupt construction of the road, Mr. Karzai said, “The attempts had failed due to the commitment to complete the project. This road means a great deal for Afghanistan.”

Due to construction of the black top road, the journey between Delaram and Zaranj will be reduced substantially from 12-14 hours to two hours.

On Wednesday, Mr. Mukherjee discussed cooperation in the field of security and developmental projects with Mr. Karzai and Mr. Spanta.

After the meetings, Mr. Spanta said both the countries faced “same terrorism from the same source,” apparently referring to Pakistan which he did not name. — PTI

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