Looking for the library India made in Afghanistan

Official sources said India may be building small libraries, but most of its investments were on large infrastructure projects

By Manashi Sengupta and Furquan Ameen in New Delhi
  • Published 3.01.19, 7:39 PM
  • Updated 4.01.19, 2:23 PM
  • 2 mins read
President Donald Trump speaks during the cabinet meeting in the White House on January 2. AP

Donald Trump's swipe at Narendra Modi about a library that India supposedly helped build in Afghanistan has spawned questions on Twitter regarding its existence.

The answer may lie in who the reader wants to believe: US President Trump or an Indian dispensation led by Prime Minister Modi.  

A report in PTI, credited to official sources in the government, was hazy about Delhi's commitment on building libraries in Afghanistan. The sources said India may be building small libraries as part of a community development initiative, but most of its investments in Afghanistan were on large infrastructure projects such as a 218-km road from Zaranj to Delaram, the Salma Dam and the new Afghan Parliament. 

An October 2017 document on the ministry's site, titled India-Afghanistan Relations, listed the successful building of the Afghan Parliament, student scholarships and Delhi's gift of four Mi-25 Attack helicopters to the Afghan Air Force as some of India's aid to its neighbour. There was no mention of any library. 

Trump's mention of Modi and the library happened during his first cabinet meeting in the new year on January 2. He was trying to make the case that other countries should contribute military boots to stabilise Afghanistan, where he wants to slash US presence. "I could give you an example where… I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Okay, a library!" the US President said. 

Then he attempted to compare India's involvement in library making to American commitments in Afghanistan. "That’s like, you know what that is? That’s like five hours of what we spend. And he tells it and he is very smart. And we are supposed to say oh, thank you for the library. I don’t know who is using it in Afghanistan..." Trump said.

Regarding military commitment on foreign soil, India's policy is clear. The country sends soldiers only on UN peacekeeping missions.   

The unclear part is whether Modi "constantly" told Trump "he built a library in Afghanistan". 

Both world leaders have a long list of gaffes and overstatements to their credit.  

The Indian Prime Minister is known to tom-tom projects that are yet to see their logical end. In April 2018, he had tweeted: "28th April 2018 will be remembered as a historic day in the development journey of India. Yesterday, we fulfilled a commitment due to which the lives of several Indians will be transformed forever! I am delighted that every single village of India now has access to electricity." 

The truth, however, is that village electrification does not translate to electric lights in every rural home. Nor does it mean constant power supply to all villages. 

Statements like the one on the Afghan library - when he spoke about a leader of another country in his absence - are not rare in Trump's quiver. Some leaders have issued clarifications after his utterances. 

In November 2018, Trump, while speaking about the forest fire devastation in California, mentioned a purported chat he had with the Finnish President. He explained that Finland, despite being a "forest country", does not face the problem of wildfires because they "spend a lot of time in raking and cleaning". He credited this explanation to Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. 

Niinistö publicly denied saying any such thing to Trump and the US President's statement quickly sparked Twitter jokes like "Make America rake again".

However, unlike Niinistö, neither the Indian Prime Minister, nor the Twitter-happy ministry of external affairs has officially said anything specific about a library in Afghanistan.