Completion of  Strategic Afghan Road by India

Other News Materials 9 September 2008 17:57 (UTC +04:00)

Afghanistan, Kabul, 8 September / Trend corr. A.Hakimi /  India has completed construction of a strategic road linking landlocked Afghanistan with a port in Iran, India's envoy said, reflecting New Delhi's resolve to remain engaged despite a deadly embassy bombing in July.

The 220-km (135-mile) road in the southwest Afghan province of Nimroz is the centerpiece of New Delhi's $1.1 billion reconstruction effort, which has drawn sniping from Pakistan, worried about its rival's growing influence in Afghanistan.

"We are in the process of handing over the road to the Afghan government," said Ambassador Jayant Prasad in an interview, adding this was a project in which India had invested blood and treasure.

Ten workers have died in attacks, including seven this year, during the construction of the road from Delaram to Zaranj on the Iranian border which is connected to the port of Chahbahar.

The road opens up an alternate access route into landlocked Afghanistan, which at the moment relies mostly on Pakistan with goods coming through from ports there and then overland via the Khyber Pass.

More than $1.2 billion worth of goods were imported into Afghanistan through Pakistan last year.

New Delhi, denied access through Pakistan, itself hopes to be able to deliver goods to Afghanistan through the Iranian port, and this has triggered fears in Pakistan it is being encircled.

"The road is part of a long-running commitment to the people of Afghanistan and it is something that has been welcomed by the people," Prasad said, citing a survey done by a foreign consultancy which ranked India high among foreign nations operating in Afghanistan because of its involvement in reconstruction work.

But the suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul in July in which at least 58 people, including two Indian diplomats, were killed, underscored the tensions that lay beneath.

New Delhi and the Afghan government blamed Pakistan's Inter- Services Intelligence for the blast, an allegation backed by the U.S. which said there was evidence of involvement. Pakistan angrily rejected the charges.

The attack also stirred fears South Asia's nuclear-armed neighbors had taken their rivalry to Afghanistan in a proxy war.

"Our response to the attack is we will carry on doing what we have been," Prasad said.

"We were attacked for that reason, we were certainly not attacked because people were hostile to us here."

He said there had been an outpouring of sympathy from Afghans following the bombings, with one provincial governor calling him to say Afghans and Indians, "united by a bond of sweat earlier, were now united in blood." The envoy also defended India's decision on running missions in Mazar-I-Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad, which Islamabad says have been established to carry out hostile activities.

"Can five or six people in a consulate de-stabilize a whole nation, is that possible?" Prasad countered.