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India hands over key highway to Afghanistan

Ajay Kaul in Delaram | January 22, 2009 19:11 IST

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India on Thursday handed over to Afghan authorities a crucial highway built by it in the face of stiff resistance from Taliban [Images], vowing that the collaboration between the two countries in the field of development will not stop.

The 215-km long Delaram-Zaranj highway, a symbol of India's developmental work in the war-ravaged country, was handed over to Afghan authorities by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee [Images] in the presence of Afghan President Hamid Karzai [Images] and Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.

"Completion of the road reflects the determination of both India and Afghanistan that nothing can prevent or hinder collaboration between the two countries," Mukherjee said at a function to mark this handover.

On the occasion, Karzai said the completion of the Rs 600 crore project is a message to those who want to stop cooperation between India and Afghanistan.

"Our cooperation will not stop," the Afghan President said.

The Taliban was opposed to this project and launched frequent attacks on the construction workers in an attempt to force the winding up of the work. A total of six Indians, including a Border Roads Organisation driver and four ITBP soldiers, and 129 Afghans were killed in these 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," Mukherjee said, describing the completion of the project as "a glowing example" of the India-Afghanistan cooperation.

It will further regional cooperation by encouraging new trade and transit through Iranian ports and a supplementary access of Afghanistan to the sea, he said.

Besides the highway, Mukherjee said, India constructed 58 km of inner city roads in Afghanistan.

Compare to the cost of other roads constructed in Afghanistan, the total cost of the highway project was modest, he said.

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, Brig N R K Babu, General Manager of the BRO project, said.

The presence of Mukherjee and Karzai at the event reflects the significance attached to the highway, which links Kabul with Iran and ultimately to the Chabahar port.

It will provide 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.

The 339 engineers of the BRO completed in three years the construction of the highway, which opens a shorter alternative route connecting Kabul to Iran.

Paying homage to those who made "supreme sacrifice" during the construction of the highway, 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."

When referred to attempts to disrupt construction of the road, Karzai said "the attempts had failed due to the commitment to complete the project."

"This road means a great deal for Afghanistan," the President said.

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