Memo to world; you’re paying the enemy in Afghanistan not to attack you

This fascinating feature by Matthieu Atkins in Caravan Magazine highlights the role of India in backing an insurgency it claims to be against. Just like the rest of the Western powers in this disaster – revealed in a very powerful ABC TV 4 Corners documentary tonight that shows the complete lack of understanding by Australia and America in the so-called kill/capture policy – Afghanistan is the dead zone for failed, faded or failing empires:

At long last, construction of the new Parliament building on Darulaman Road in Kabul is nearing its final stages of completion, with the exterior expected to be finished later this fall. The $178 million brass-domed structure, whose foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and King Mohammed Zahir Shah in August 2005, is a gift from the Indian government, a fitting token of support for Afghanistan from the world’s largest democracy.

The Parliament building is perhaps the most visible sign of India’s $2 billion development aid programme in Afghanistan. Managed by India’s Central Public Works Department (CPWD), the construction of the building is a joint venture between two large Indian construction companies, both well-known for building roadways: BSCPL Infrastructure Ltd, Hyderabad, and C&C Constructions Ltd, Gurgaon. While the building marks their first ”˜vertical’ project in Afghanistan, the two firms have already done major work in the country—including the recently completed $176-million Gardez-Khost highway, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

But the Gardez-Khost highway stands out for another reason. According to an investigation published in The New York Times in May, the subcontractors working on the project, including BSCPL and C&C, paid millions of dollars in protection money to one of Afghanistan’s deadliest—and most anti-Indian—insurgent groups. It’s a story that highlights the compromises that Indian companies—like other international firms—have had to make in order to do business in the rough world of Afghan politics. It also raises concerns that Indian companies will be put in an increasingly untenable position in Afghanistan as the security situation deteriorates and US forces withdraw.

“Indian companies already have a significant investment and sunk cost. If they want to get anything out of it, they need to make these compromises,” said Harsh Pant, a professor at King’s College London and an expert on Asia-Pacific security issues. “The Indian government has basically told them they’re on their own.”

An equal-spoils project like the BSCPL/C&C joint venture is to be expected of the well-connected companies that undertake India’s development work abroad. BSCPL’s chairman, Bollineni Krishnaiah, is a former Congress party legislator in the Andhra Pradesh state assembly, while the company’s director (technical), Utthandumpillai Jayakodi, worked for 12 years in the Union ministry of road transport and highways. At C&C, the director, Rajendra Mohan Aggarwal, was a former executive engineer with the CPWD, which awarded the contract for the Afghan Parliament building.

After arriving in Afghanistan in 2003 during the heady days of postwar reconstruction, BSCPL/C&C combined has completed a number of major projects, including contracts for 700 km of roads, worth nearly $250 million and funded by USAID, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. These roads, which pass through some of the most volatile parts of southern Afghanistan, are precisely the kind of projects that have given rise to large payments to the insurgents and local warlords.