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Shahtoot Dam Project: Why The Deepening India-Afghanistan Bond Unsettles Pakistan

Shahtoot dam project

In dealing with the war-torn country Afghanistan, India has been following a different path compared to the approach of the West. While the likes of the US acted in Afghanistan mostly on military aspects, it is India that has majorly invested in the re-building of Afghanistan. It is this way perhaps that India touches the heart of the people effectively. Humanitarian assistance, building institutions, giving scholarships, financial assistance to developmental projects are the ways that India has deployed to help Afghanistan, the details of which can be read in our previous article This is How India is Rebuilding Afghanistan.

Now, in a major boost to assistance efforts, India has announced an agreement with Afghanistan for building the Shahtoot dam project which would provide safe drinking water to 20 lakh residents of Kabul city upon its completion, besides irrigating 400 hectares of agricultural land in Chahar Asiab and Khairabad districts in Kabul province.

Deepening Indo-Afghan Bond – Unnerving Pakistan

India’s partnership in redeveloping Afghanistan has deepened the bond between two countries. Though Pakistan has Afghanistan as an immediate neighbour, the latter’s friendship with India is a distinct relationship that stands out. In fact, Pakistan has several disputes with Afghanistan including the contentious border issue, and can’t forge an alliance with the latter simply using the religious card.

In such a circumstance, India’s dam project in Afghanistan have further strengthened the Afghan people. Also, their possible dependency on neighbouring Pakistan has been reduced remarkably in recent years.

The present agreement between India and Afghanistan to build the Shahtoot dam across Kabul river has made Pakistan nervous. From Afghanistan, Kabul river enters Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and later joins the Indus river at Attock. Pakistan argues that building the dam in Afghanistan restricts the water flow to Pakistan. But Afghan authorities paid no heed to this discomfort as they argue that the Maidan River, the tributary of Kabul river where the Shahtoot dam project will be implemented, contributes to less than 0.5 percent of the total flow of Kabul River at the Dahka trans-boundary station.

The Successful Precedence of Salma Dam

India’s effort to water the arid regions of Afghanistan will perhaps remain as an illustrative piece of history. In 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Salma dam in Afghanistan. The dam is also called the Afghan-India Friendship Dam since it was built by the sheer willpower and sacrifice of Indians and Afghan people, being the subject of frequent targeting by the Taliban. It is the most expensive of India’s infrastructure projects in the region – at over $275 million and irrigates 75,000 hectares of land besides generating power.

With this successful record, India is now joining hands with Afghanistan on Shahtoot dam project.

While in all these moves India’s stated objective has been that of development, experts often argue that India in recent years has strategically encircled Pakistan with actions related to water. For the first time under the Modi government, India acted to effectively use the Indus water that was due to its share which was flowing to Pakistan all these years. At the heights of tensions with Pakistan, PM Modi reportedly said that “blood and water cannot flow together at the same time”. You can read more in our article from the archive Why Shahpurkandi Dam Project is a New Chapter in Indus.