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'The security of Indian workers is our foremost responsibility'

February 26, 2009
There is a lot of sensitivity now in India about Indians who are working in Afghanistan. Are you doing enough for the security of Indian workers?

This is our first and foremost responsibility. We have a dedicated officer for the purpose. We review the security situation and contingent threats constantly, on a daily basis. We e-mail advisories to all Indians registered with us and post them on our Web site.

We have over 3,000 Indians in Afghanistan whose welfare is important to us. Besides, we have an Indian Diaspora of Sikh and Hindu Afghans. Their number has thinned to under 5,000 now because of civil war and the Taliban between 1992 to 2001. Many migrated to the West or to Central Asian countries or to India.

In view of the security situation and ground realties, is India's role limited?

If you view that certain parts of Afghanistan are now controlled by the Taliban, the Karzai government is restricted around Kabul and large parts of the country are controlled by drug lords or local strongmen. How do you explain the real effect of India's help?

I am so glad you asked this question. India is amongst the very few countries in Afghanistan that have a pan-Afghan view of development. We are present in every part of Afghanistan and in many areas of reconstruction and development. We have four major landmark projects.

The first, which we have constructed and handed over, is the 220-km highway from Zaranj to Delaram in Nimroz province in the south-western part of Afghanistan.

We have a hydel project, the Salma Dam, on the Hari Rud river at Chisht-e-Sharif. This is in Herat province in western Afghanistan.

Then, we have a big infrastructure project in northern Afghanistan building transmission lines and sub-stations, to bring Uzbek electricity to Kabul and intermediate cities.

We have built the 220 KV line over the Salang pass, over 4,000 metres high, higher than anything we have built in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttranchal or in Bhutan.

In Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, we have built a cold storage facility. As you know, Kandahar is a huge fruits production centre. They produce over 35,000 tons of pomegranates of which India is the major importer. Some of the production was kept in cold storages of other countries and later, resold in the local markets again.

So, in response to the governor's request, India built a 5,000-ton cold storage facility for the fruits merchants of Kandahar.

In the capital, Kabul, since January this year, we have begun construction of the Afghan parliament.

In areas where we do not have a direct presence, we support small development projects, typically costing less than a million dollars each, which are proposed to us by the provincial authorities. These are quick gestation, social sector projects, implemented with local resources. The projects include no-go areas in Nooristan, Kunar and Badakhshan in the frontier provinces of Afghanistan.

In Badakhshan, we have put up solar power projects in villages and at a teachers training institute. We have, thus, established a development presence all over the country.

As a woman journalist, you would be happy to know that four Afghan women have been enrolled, on scholarship, for MBBS at the premier Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi. They are part of the 500 Afghan students who go to India every year on ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies.

Besides, India also trains 500 Afghan public servants each year in India in any training institution of their choice for anywhere between three days to six months at a time. Both the scholarships and training slots are being expanded significantly this year.

Image: Indian-built power transmission over the Salang Pass will bring Uzbek electricity to Kabul.

Also see: Iran, India and the 'great game'
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