India’s aid to Afghanistan stretches far beyond just the “library” Trump seems to believe it has funded.
US president Donald Trump recently mocked Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, saying that the latter told him that India had funded a library, which amounted to “five hours of what we (the US) spend (Afghanistan)”. Trump made the claim at a press conference where he was defending his push for the US to spend less on overseas. Trump’s decision to pull the US out of Afghanistan, even those sympathetic to the American president believe, will destabilise the region. But, those concerns notwithstanding, everyone—other than Trump, of course—has been left scratching their heads because no library project in Afghanistan has been funded by India in recent years. Also, contrary to what Trump is convinced is the size of India’s spending in Afghanistan, India remains the largest development donor to the country ravaged by decades of war, including the one waged by the US.
India’s infrastructure development assistance includes the 42MW India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam or Salma dam that supplies water for irrigating 75,000 hectares, and the new Afghan Parliament building. India is also in a tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to develop Iran’s Chabahar port, and this will see Indian investment of $11-billion in developing mining in Afghanistan apart from a further $2-billion investment in developing supporting infrastructure in Afghanistan. More than 3,500 Afghans are undergoing training programmes in India, and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, a 400-bed hospital, is the main medical facility in Afghanistan that treats about 300,000 children every year. Notwithstanding the size of India’s aid to Afghanistan, or even the library that Trump seems to see as India’s only contribution, it is bizarre—and downright clownish—to underplay the benefit of a library anywhere in the world, even in an area ravaged by conflicts.
To be sure, there are other priorities that must take precedence in war-torn countries like Afghanistan, but it is an investment for the future, for hope of normal times returning. India may not be investing as much as the US does on stationing armed forces in Afghanistan, but the latest round of war was started by the US, in a bid to punish Al Qaida; in the process, it wrecked the country and now wants to leave democracy’s fragile hold over the country in a lurch.