Three weeks after US President Donald Trump urged India to do more in Afghanistan on “economic assistance and development”, India on Monday stepped up its development partnership and committed to 116 new projects in 31 provinces — ranging from drinking water supply to low cost housing, roads and polyclinics. New Delhi also agreed to strengthen security cooperation and pointed out that the countries must stay united in dealing with the challenge posed by “cross-border terrorism” – an oblique reference to Pakistan.
The visiting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Salahuddin Rabbani, named “terrorists groups like LeT and JeM”, which he said “have been launching attacks against India and indiscriminately killing civilians in this country and engaging in similar terrorist activities along with Taliban Al-Qaeda and Daesh in Afghanistan”. Both sides hit out at Pakistan, without naming the country.
After bilateral talks with Rabbani, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said, “Today, building upon our economic and development cooperation, we jointly agreed to embark on a New Development Partnership in keeping with the priorities of Afghanistan. 116 new High Impact Development Projects will be jointly implemented that will bring socio-economic and infrastructure development, especially in the suburban and rural communities in 31 provinces of Afghanistan.”
The projects will be in the areas of education, health, agriculture, irrigation, drinking water, renewable energy, flood control, micro-hydropower, sports infrastructure and administrative infrastructure. They will include Shahtoot dam and drinking water project for Kabul that will also facilitate irrigation, low-cost housing for returning Afghan refugees in Nangarhar Province to promote resettlement, road connectivity to Band-e-Amir in Bamyan Province that would promote tourism to the National Park and economic development; water supply network for Charikar city in Parwan Province, establishment of a gypsum board manufacturing plant in Kabul to promote value added industry, and construction of a polyclinic in Mazar-e-Sharif.
On August 24, Trump had asked India to “help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistant and development”. “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan but India makes billions of dollars in trade from the IS and we them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development,” he had said.
Officials said the Indian side finalised these projects in close consultation with the Afghan government over the last few months.
The two sides also agreed to “strengthen security cooperation”. “India agreed to extend further assistance for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organized crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering,” the joint statement after the second India Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Council said.
Swaraj said, “We remain united in overcoming the challenges posed by cross border terrorism and safe havens and sanctuaries to both our countries.” Expressing gratitude to India for its unflinching support for peace and stability in Afghanistan, Rabbani said both countries agreed to strengthen security cooperation.
The two sides also signed four pacts, including one on vehicular movement to boost overland transit and another on a fresh batch of development projects by India in Afghanistan.
Discussing connectivity projects, Swaraj said the development of Chabahar Port in trilateral cooperation with Iran was being expedited. The supply of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port will begin in the coming weeks. Rabbani said Afghanistan strongly supports India’s membership of the UN Security Council and other groupings and hoped that it would back Kabul’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
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