India hands over Afghan road, trade can now flow via Iran

India today formally handed over a crucial road link to Afghanistan that will reduce its dependence on Pakistan and give it alternative access to the sea through an Iranian port.

The 218-km long Zaranj-Delaram project, completed in August last year, was formally handed over to local authorities by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee at a function in Delaram in south Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai was also present.

The road, built under stiff resistance from the Taliban, will give India a direct trade link to Kabul through the Chabahar deep sea port in Iran. Until now, Afghanistan's only link to the sea was via a circuitous route through Pakistan — this deprived India from conducting large scale trade with Kabul. The road will link Iran to the Garland Highway which connects Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif with Kandahar and Herat. It also cuts the Kandahar-Chabahar distance by about 1,000 km.

Mukherjee said completion of the project reflected the "determination of both India and Afghanistan that nothing can prevent or hinder collaboration between the two countries". The Ministry of External Affairs said the project "symbolises India's strong commitment towards the development of Afghanistan".

India will also shortly complete work on a new transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a sub-station at Chimtala as part of its rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan. The MEA announced that on an Afghan request, India will construct an additional sub-station at Charikar.

The Zaranj-Delaram project came under repeated Taliban attacks since work began in 2004. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) team working on the project lost five men, including two road engineers and an ITBP soldier, in four separate attacks. The Taliban stepped up its onslaught last year, carrying out three suicide attacks on Indian convoys as the project drew to a close. Over 60 Afghan security personnel, who formed the external security perimeter of the work force, were killed in the attacks.

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