The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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India link in tent of learning to tower of democracy
- After lending a hand to rebuild school, Delhi to construct Afghanistan's parliament building

Kabul, Oct. 21: The view across the Kabul river from the Bagh-e-Babur, the tomb of the founder of the Mughal dynasty, is the urbanscape of a war-ravaged city with just as many buildings intact as are destroyed. In the playground in front of the largest of several buildings being renovated is a little village of tents.

India, still called Hindustan by most here, is rebuilding the Habibi High School that now holds classes under tents. Indian teachers of English and the elementary subjects have been deputed to the faculty. The syllabus has changed. The Afghan student will get to learn arithmetic without being asked 'if a boy has 10 Kalashnikovs and gives away two, how much will he have left.'

Under the tents in the afternoon, students aged from five to 14 sit six to a bench meant for three while a teacher upfront tries to make himself audible in the din of a hundred youthful voices. Just behind the tents ' erected with sheets donated by Unicef ' is the main building of the school.

Once one of Kabul's largest schools, it was devastated in the war. A rocket fired by the Taliban is still embedded in the concrete wall of the building's central section. Supervisor A.K. Agarwala of the Central Public Works Department is in charge of renovating the school building that will have a hundred classrooms.

Classrooms in tents are an inevitable sign of cataclysmic times having visited a place. Classes were held in schools that came up under tents in Bhuj after the Kutch earthquake. Tenthouse schools were a feature of quake-ravaged Iran, too, last year. But classes in tents are equally a symbol of hope.

But the most potent symbol of India's help to Afghanistan is one that is now beginning to take shape.

India will build the parliament for new Afghanistan, taking its drive to showcase its democracy a notch higher. India's own Parliament in New Delhi was built by the British.

Last month, the Election Commission signed agreements with the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division and the Ivory Coast to extend help in conducting elections in 'post-conflict' countries.

Engineers from the Indian government's CPWD have carried out a survey for Afghanistan's new parliament building to be located in Kabul, and New Delhi has given its commitment that it will undertake the job, Indian embassy sources in Kabul said.

Afghanistan went through its first poll just 12 days ago, on October 9. Its India-built parliament will shelter the war-torn country's emerging democratic institutions ' the Wolesi Jirga (House of the People) and the Meshrano Jirga (the House of Elders).

The structure of an Afghan government ' it is still called the interim administration in the 'transitional Islamic republic of Afghanistan' ' was laid out in the Loya Jirga (Grand Council of tribal leaders) and the Bonn Agreement of 2002 and that charted a roadmap for a legitimate government in the country.

'Building Afghanistan's parliament, to which we are committed, is just one of the projects that India has undertaken. Our commitments in Afghanistan are now worth about $400 million, quite a bit for a non-traditional donor,' India's ambassador to Afghanistan, Vivek Katju, said in Kabul.

Among some of the major projects undertaken by India are a 220-km road between Delaram near the Iranian border and Zaranj in western Afghanistan. Engineers of the Indian Army's Border Roads Organisation are at the spot and advance parties have begun preliminary work.

Katju said a 25-year-old project to build the Salma Dam in Herat was also being revived. The dam, estimated to cost about $17 million, would generate electricity and canalise water for irrigation. Surveys for power transmission lines have also been carried out by the Power Grid Corporation from the Pule-e-Khuani. An Indian Medical Mission in Afghanistan currently has about 15 doctors in five cities ' Shiberghan, Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharief.

'The medical mission is earning us the maximum goodwill and it is treating everyone, from the commoner to the king,' Katju said.

India is also providing uplink facilities for Kabul Television with 10 provincial stations. A relay transmission of the results of Afghanistan's just held elections was being made possible with Indian assistance. The newly-raised Afghan National Army has been supplied with about 300 Mahindra Bolero vehicles that have made possible its deployment in five regional commands.

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