Prime Minister Modi is slated to inaugurate the Salma Dam in Afghanistan on June 4 when he stops over in Heart, Afghanistan, for his onward journey to Qatar and the US, later on June 7-8 on invitation of President Obama.
Salma Dam was renamed last year by the Afghan Government as the ‘India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam’.
Salma Dam is hydroelectric and irrigation project on the Hari River at Chist-e-Shariff in Herat province near the border with Iran. The dam has been built by India with the project cost over Rs 1400 crore; constructed by WAPCOS Ltd under aegis of India’s Ministry of Water Resources. This hydroelectric project has the capacity of generating 42mw of power, in addition to potential to irrigate 80,000 hectares of land. Filling of water in the reservoir, which has the capacity of storing 640 million cubic meters water for the three turbines, had commenced last year.
Salma Dam was originally constructed in 1976 as a smaller dam but was damaged during the civil war in Afghanistan. India initiated its reconstruction in 1988, but the project was left incomplete for considerable years again because of the civil war. India, however, was committed to complete the dam and in January 2013, the Indian cabinet approved revised cost of INR 1,457 crores (US$ 273.3 million) for the completion of the project. On 26 July 2015 the dam began to impound its reservoir.
While Pakistan has been the force behind the instability in Afghanistan causing death and destruction through terrorist acts, India has been helping Afghanistan in reconstruction and uplifting the Afghan economy.
PM Modi had recently inaugurated the new Afghan Parliament building in Kabul funded and constructed by India.
Other major infrastructure projects that India took up in Afghanstan include: constructed the 218 km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan connecting up to the Iranian border; construction of 220kV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 KV sub-station at Chimtala; restored telecommunication infrastructure in 11 provinces, and; expansion of national TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals. In addition have been Small & Community-based Development Projects that are in various stages in some 19 provinces. These are in vulnerable border areas, with focus on local ownership and management and extend to agriculture, rural development, education, health, vocational training, and solar energy. These have a direct, immediate and visible impact on community life.
The India Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement 2011 is based on the four pillars of: Political & Security Cooperation; Trade & Economic Cooperation; Capacity Development & Education, and; Social, Cultural, Civil Society and People-to-People Relations. India has accorded Preferential Trade Agreement to Afghanistan, in addition to donating more than $2 billion in economic assistance. There is military cooperation between the two countries and India has also gifted civil commercial aircraft to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is facing increased instability with Pakistan based Haqqani Network having rallied both the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban (TTP) under common umbrella, as acknowledged by US intelligence and being reported in New York Times. James Clapper, Director US National Intelligence has assessed much more violence and instability in Afghanistan during 2016 as compared to 2015.
Although Mullah Akhtar Mansour, Afghan Taliban chief was recently killed by US drones in Balochistn, Pakistan had already placed Sirajuddin Haqqani, Haqqani chief as deputy leader of Afghan Taliban last year. With Afghan Taliban havig announced Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as the new Afghan Taliban chief; they have also confirmed that Sirajuddin Haqqani will continue as the deputy leader. This implies that Pakistan will continue to play her dirty games in Afghanistan. Both US and Afghan intelligence say Pakistan’s ISI has allowed the Haqqanis to live freely in Pakistan for over past three decades. With thousands of fighters under command, the Haqqanis, intimately linked to the ISI, have emerged as the strongest card of the Taliban. According to Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson International Centre, Washington, “There’s no one sole source of of the Haqqani network’s strength, though three places you can point to are its personnel, its links to Pakistan, and its ties to the Gulf region”, but the fact remains that the main strengthof the Haqqani network is Pakistan and the ISI.
Significantly in March 2013, Afghan intelligence had reported that Taliban’s Quetta Shura had attempted to blow up the Salma Dam with 1300 kgs of explosives. The explosives were discovered in the area of Pashtun Zarghun District of Heart, which was reportedly smuggled into the area from Baluchistan in Pakistan. Afghanistan is eagerly looking forward to PM Modi inaugurating the India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam. According to Afghan media, the dam which is 20 kms in length and three kms in width is expected to benefit almost 100,000 families in four districts of the Heart province by providing them with electricity and water. It will provide electricity to 40,000 families and irrigate 80,000 hectares of farmland belonging to some 50,000 families. The benefits can go even beyond Heart. Abdul Basir Azimi, spokesman for Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water says, “If we manage to extend the power line till Ghor province, we will be able to provide electricity (generated by Salma Dam) to a number of districts there as well”.
According to John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction, the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) has failed to revitalize Afghan economy. TFBSO was established in 2010 but shut down in 2015. Sopko questions the numerous projects in Afghanistan including the Kajakal Dam which is the longest running public works project in the history of the US; commenced in 1949-1950 that has still not finished despite the US spending millions of dollars into it and several contractors and coalition soldiers losing their lives. However, referring to Salma Dam, Abdul Rauf Enami, Secretary, Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) says, “The implementation of development projects is a solution; it is a way that can support security and bring welfare to the people”. Without doubt the Salma Dam is a shining example of India-Afghanistan friendship .
Prakash Katoch is third generation army officer hailing from Himachal Pradesh. He is former Lieutenant General from Special Forces and post-retirement has published over 2100 articles on international affairs, geopolitics, military, security, technical and topical issues besides authoring two books. He is active in seminars at both national and international levels.