Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday inaugurated Afghanistan’s new parliament built by India at a cost of $90 million, saying the war-torn country would succeed only when terrorism no longer flowed across its border and sanctuaries of terrorism were shut down.
Modi flew into Afghanistan from Russia for a day-long visit that was not previously announced for security reasons. He received a warm welcome from President Ashraf Ghani and later addressed a session of both houses of parliament.
India’s ties with Pakistan and the rivalry between the two countries in Afghanistan loomed large over the speech by Modi, who said he hoped “Pakistan will become a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan and beyond”.
Indian and US officials have for long accused Pakistan of backing terror groups like the Haqqani Network that have carried out brazen attacks across Afghanistan, including some on Indian interests, and these concerns were reflected in Modi’s address.
“Afghanistan will succeed only when terrorism no longer flows across the border; when nurseries and sanctuaries of terrorism are shut; and, their patrons are no longer in business,” he said.
“There are some who did not want us to be here. There were those who saw sinister designs in our presence here. There are others who were uneasy at the strength of our partnership. Some even tried to discourage us,” he added.
The Afghan people, Modi said, had never doubted the sincerity of India’s commitment and they had seen the “fruits of our partnership”. He said: “You have judged us by what you see, not what others tell you, including about the mysterious Indian consulates.”
Pakistan has for long claimed that India has more than two dozen consulates in Afghanistan, as against the actual figure of four.
Modi said India is in Afghanistan “to contribute not to compete” and to lay the foundations of the future and to rebuild lives. He outlined the steps India has taken so far to help rebuild the war-ravaged country and announced 500 new scholarships.
“Power and water will flow out of Salma Dam soon. The Stor Palace will again stand as a symbol of your priceless heritage. Our scheme of 1,000 scholarships every year for Afghan students in India will continue. We are pleased with the response to our special scholarship scheme in agriculture science,” he said.
“Today, I announce 500 scholarships for the children of the martyrs of Afghan security forces.”
Modi said India has assisted in the building of schools, minor irrigation projects, health centres, roads, power transmission lines and satellite links for education, medicine and communication and is helping Afghan security forces become more mobile. He added that Afghanistan’s neighbours – India, Pakistan, Iran and others – must unite behind the common purpose of rebuilding the country.
“That is why we are working to improve your connectivity by land and sea, including through Chahbahar in Iran,” he said.
“I hope that the day will come soon…when a Kabuliwala can once again come across easily to win Indian hearts; when we in India can relish the wonderful fruits of Afghanistan; when Afghans do not have to pay an enormous price to buy their favourite products from India,” he said.
India’s Central Public Works Department began construction of the parliament building in 2009 but the completion deadline was missed several times, and the budget ballooned to double the original estimate of $45 million.
The parliament building was originally conceived eleven years ago by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former President Hamid Karzai and Modi paid special tribute to Vajpayee in his speech.
“We could not have chosen a more special day (for the inauguration) than the birthday of one of the tallest leaders of our time, former Prime Minister and Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayeeji…And, we are deeply touched that you have chosen to name one of the wings in this building the Atal Block,” he said.
“And the Atal Block unites us in spirit, because Atal means hero in Pashto and in Hindi it means to be firm. It captures the spirit of Afghanistan and of our friendship,” he said, adding the parliament will stand as an “enduring symbol of the ties of emotions and values, of affection and aspirations that bind us in a special relationship”.