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Amid all the political wrangling over the presidential elections in Afghanistan and sharp differences over the military campaign among major countries, India quietly crossed an important milestone in its diplomatic efforts as it successfully completed a four-year effort to build a 202-km transmission line to bring electricity to power-starved Kabul.
Until this, the city was running on a single gas turbine and some 25 heavy duty diesel generators for which the US was providing over $100 million of fuel. Kabul had long power cuts and matters became worse during winter. With the recent launch of the transmission line and the Chimtala sub-station near Kabul, there has been a dramatic change.
The Chimtala sub-station today distributes 90-120 MW, which is enough for Kabul. While distribution needs to be streamlined to reach each household, there is now excess power and the Afghanistan government wants India to help start an industrial estate near Kabul. This may be the next big project for India because it has already funded a well-equipped tool room for skill training.
Bringing electricity to Kabul was a project which started after a power-purchase agreement was finalised between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. A 462-km transmission line had to be built from the Uzbek border to Kabul of which the last part of 202 km from Pul-e-Khumri near the Salang pass on the Hindu Kush was to be constructed by India's Power Grid Corporation.
Much of this fell in the "snow zone" at heights reaching up to 3,800 m. As many as 613 towers have been erected, and these were designed in India to withstand inclement weather. Pakistan refused the use of its territory for transporting these towers which then had to be sent via Iran. Also, heavy turbine equipment was moved in what was among the largest airlift operations to Kabul.