Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zaranj-Delaram highway. The other supply route

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The 218-km road connecting Delaram (on the Kandahar-Herat highway) to Zaranj, on the border with Iran has been completed (via Swami Iyer). The strategic importance of this road—as news reports never fail to mention—is to provide landlocked Afghanistan an alternative access to the sea, allowing it to break free from Pakistan’s traditional stranglehold.

Since this route passes through several hundred kilometres of Iranian territory before connecting to Chabahar on the Persian Gulf, it remains to be seen if Iran will prove to be a better neighbour than Pakistan. From a purely economic standpoint though, Afghanistan should benefit from the competition between the two routes.

For Afghanistan, this is an opportunity to regain better access to the Indian market that it lost in 1947. For India, it is an opportunity to regain better access to Central Asia that it too lost in 1947. To the extent that Pakistan remains wedded to its traditional strategic rent-seeking behaviour it is likely to attempt to foil these plans.

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The explicit intent of this project is to break Pakistan ’s monopoly on Afghanistan’s links to the outside world through the Khyber Pass, and the Taliban strongholds of eastern Afghanistan, and reorient Afghanistan ’s transport, economic, and strategic focus to its west.

the road runs through "the drug-cultivation belt where there is huge resistance to the work being done"

India ’s geopolitical fortunes in this alien land rest on the shaky foundations of the Karzai government and the goodwill India hopes it is accruing among Afghani citizens by its public works projects and the widespread airing of its Bollywood features and trash television.

U.S. support is a limited and conditional commodity, since India’s strategic plans for Afghanistan rely on a de facto alliance with Iran in the west to counter the Pashtun/pro-Pakistan forces in the east.

With the NATO governments unanimously swinging behind a negotiation-driven exit strategy, the most likely outcome three years from now is that the Taliban are back in the government, Pakistan has regained its influence in Kabul , every Indian in Afghanistan has a bull’s eye on his back, and the most important Indian asset inside the country will be its fortified chancery.

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