Millennium Post

Is Taliban enjoying Indian-made Afghan road?

The strategic intent with which India had sought to build the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan, connecting with Herat-Kandahar highway has been largely lost.

The original plan for the road, as the Indian planners had thought, was that it would open up into the Afghan-Iran border, and connect with the highway that goes through the Jabol town in Iran, right up to the Chabahar port. But, the route is now virtually off-limits for cargo traffic.

On the Iranian side of the equation – the Zaranj-Delaram road was actually built as Indian-Iran-Afghanistan friendship project – the situation is not altogether conducive for providing free movement to people and goods. The road leading from the Iran-Afghan border to the Chabahar port, a distance of about 1,000 kilometres, is not easily navigable by trucks and containers, informed sources say.

A little to the west of the Chabahar port is Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf, which is a key point of entry into Iran. The Chabahar port, on the other hand, is in the Gulf of Oman, just across west coast of India, on the Arabian Sea.

The port was being built with Indian assistance even though it was at a proximate location with Pakistan’s Gwadar port that was being upgraded by China. Considering Pakistan’s opposition to provide access to India through its territory to Afghanistan, the planners had thought that this route – Chahbahar, through to Jabol and then Zaranj-Delaram road on to Kabul and Kandahar in the south – would solve the problem by bypassing Gwadar. But, much remains to be done even in the Iranian port.

On top of that, there are reports that 218-kilometre-long Zaranj-Delaram road is now in the hands of the Afghan Taliban, which hold sway in the Nimroz province through which the road passes.

In an article in October 2011, the Indian Defence Review had stated that the Zaranj road, which New Delhi built at a cost $ 150 million, was under the control of the Taliban forces, as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) refused to secure it.

However, the director general of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), Lt Gen. L Ravishankar disagreed with this claim. He said that a Ministry of Defence team had visited Kabul and concluded that the road was 'doing wonders for the people of the region'. He said, 'An unused road in that terrain usually gets covered by sand. The fact that there is no sand on the road shows that it is being used.' But, the question is who is using it? And, to what end?

The BRO chief said that for the first six months of the construction there were no problems. The peace was broken first when a BRO chauffeur was kidnapped and eventually killed. At the end, the BRO lost 11 people during the construction of the road – six to terrorist attacks and five to accidents.

He was of the opinion that localised competitive conflicts between those who work at Bandar Abbas and those in Chahbahar could be one of the reasons for the bottlenecks.
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