The road that India built

…in Afghanistan

Zaranj-Delaram Map

The 218-km road connecting Delaram (on the Kandahar-Herat highway) to Zaranj, on the border with Iran has been completed (via Swami Iyer). The strategic importance of this road—as news reports never fail to mention—is to provide landlocked Afghanistan an alternative access to the sea, allowing it to break free from Pakistan’s traditional stranglehold.

Since this route passes through several hundred kilometres of Iranian territory before connecting to Chabahar on the Persian Gulf, it remains to be seen if Iran will prove to be a better neighbour than Pakistan. From a purely economic standpoint though, Afghanistan should benefit from the competition between the two routes.

There is a lot of hope pinned on this alternative route. For Afghanistan, this is an opportunity to regain better access to the Indian market that it lost in 1947. For India, it is an opportunity to regain better access to Central Asia that it too lost in 1947. To the extent that Pakistan remains wedded to its traditional strategic rent-seeking behaviour it is likely to attempt to foil these plans. And as the attack on the Indian embassy has shown, it remains wedded to old tactics as much as it is to old strategies.

This being so, it is strange that the India should be considering withdrawing four companies (around 400 personnel) of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police currently deployed in Afghanistan. There is a case for a robust Indian military presence in Afghanistan; with force levels carefully calibrated, on the one hand to secure Indian interests, and on the other, to avoid being seen by the local population as an ‘occupying’ force. Reducing India’s military presence at a critical phase in Afghanistan’s counter-insurgency war is uncalled for at this stage.

4 thoughts on “The road that India built”

  1. Pingback: The Acorn
  2. I know everyone talks of the strategic import of the road for Afghans, but there is no road connecting Zarang to an Iranian port via Zahedan or Bam. I wonder if Zarang is even a major port of entry and if Iran or India is contemplating a road between Zahedan and Zarang…Also I saw reports of adding, not pulling back ITBP, apparently if and when needed.

    So did you see Praveen Swami’s article on how RAW made life difficult in the Land of the Pure in the 80s when Punjab was on fire. Looks like Narayanan wants to revive the old habits. Good for him – it’s long overdue response. And it has little to do with what western powers are doing or not doing on Durand line. And there is nothing wrong in giving a call of warning to the enemies.

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