Afghanistan is first stop on Modi's 5-nation tour

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Afghanistan for a one-day visit to inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The dam in Herat province is one of two large projects under India's development part
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Afghanistan for a one-day visit to inaugurate the Afghan-India Friendship Dam with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The dam in Herat province is one of two large projects under India's development partnership with Afghanistan.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

India's role as a steady development partner will generate 'enormous goodwill'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicks off a five-nation tour today with a visit to Afghanistan, where he will inaugurate a dam whose completion underscores India's efforts to remain engaged in the strife-torn country.

India poured US$300 million (S$408 million) into the reconstruction of the Afghan-India Friendship Dam in Herat province, earlier known as the Salma Dam. It will help irrigate 75,000ha in a province that produces more than 90 per cent of Afghanistan's saffron.

Mr Modi will join Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the flagship project. Officials point to it as a visible sign of the cooperation between the two countries, geographically divided by Pakistan which opposes India's presence in Afghanistan.

Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishankar said at a briefing in Delhi yesterday: "It has taken work under challenging circumstances... We believe enormous goodwill derives from the perception that India has been a steady development partner for Afghanistan."

Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup added: "It also highlights India's continued commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction and development."

Though India does not have a direct role in an Afghan peace process, it has spent over US$2 billion building schools, roads and power lines as well as the Parliament building in Kabul inaugurated by Mr Modi in December last year.

Though India does not have a direct role in an Afghan peace process, it has spent over US$2 billion building schools, roads and power lines as well as the Parliament building in Kabul which was inaugurated by Mr Modi in December last year.

Mr Modi's visit comes a week after he made a trip to Iran where he signed a deal to develop Chabahar Port to get access to the Afghan and Iranian markets, which are currently blocked to India by Pakistan.

Afghanistan is also expected to be part of the discussion when Mr Modi holds talks with US President Barack Obama in what will be his fourth US visit.

Mr Modi will be in the US for three days next week, starting from Monday. He will address a joint session of the US Congress and pay his respects to America's war dead at the Arlington National Cemetery.

He is also visiting Mexico, Switzerland and Qatar.

"This year, (Mr Obama) was inviting some leaders with whom he had a close and productive working relationship to visit him in the US," Mr Jaishankar said yesterday.

India and the US have been drawing closer against the backdrop of growing Chinese assertiveness in Asia. In April, the two countries agreed in principle to share each other's military bases.

Analysts said even though Mr Modi was meeting Mr Obama near the end of the latter's presidency, there is bipartisan support for ties with India in the US Congress.

Mr Rakesh Sood, former diplomat and distinguished fellow with Observer Research Foundation, said: "India's ties with the US stand on their own trajectory. So many things are happening both on the defence and trade side."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Afghanistan is first stop on Modi's 5-nation tour'. Print Edition | Subscribe