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India accomplishes Afghan road mission
- Strategic highway survives Pakistan scare and Kabul embassy blast

New Delhi, July 15: India has braved the 7/7 Kabul embassy blast and held on to complete the strategic Afghanistan road linking Zaranj on the Iran border to Delaram in its north-east.

The 218-km road, which will loosen Pakistan’s stranglehold on its land-locked neighbour by allowing Afghanistan access to the sea from the Iran side, is likely to be declared completed on Thursday, sources said.

Security agencies see the success of this project, funded and executed by Delhi, as a reason for the car-bomb attack on the Kabul embassy that killed four Indians. They allege Pakistan set off the blast as it is uneasy about the edge India will now have in the central Asian power game.

The blast victims were today nominated for the Kirti Chakra, India’s second-highest peacetime military award, according to a PTI report. The names of the four — IFS officer V.V. Rao, defence attache R.D. Mehta and ITBP jawans Roop Singh and Ajai Pathania — have been forwarded by the defence ministry to the department concerned. If approved, it will be the first time an IFS officer will be given the military award for bravery.

The completion of the road by the Border Roads Organisation will also be an enduring tribute to the four, described as “martyrs” by Indian officials.

Sources said the road, which required the services of four companies of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police to guard the construction workers, will be dedicated to the Afghan people. The 400-odd ITBP officers are likely to return home.

The road is a godsend for Afghanistan as it will now be able to access the Iranian port of Chabahar. The time taken to reach the sea will be much less than that taken via the Pakistan route as Delaram is on the Kandahar-Herat road.

This will not only increase the volume of Afghan trade, it will facilitate the transit of Indian goods to that country. Pakistan can no longer play difficult and refuse permission to ferry goods through their territory.

In 2003, India, Iran and Afghanistan had signed an MoU to improve Kabul’s access to the coast. While Iran was to build a transit route to link Milak in its south-east to Zaranj in Afghanistan, India was to construct the Zaranj-Delaram road.

Proposals are being worked out on additional manpower requirements at consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar where security will be beefed up. India also has consulates in Mazar-e-sharif and Herat.

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