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Monday, July 14, 2008

Being cautious is the keyword in terror-stuck Kabul
Amitabh Revi
Sunday, July 13, 2008 (Kabul)
While the attack in Kabul has shaken up many and killed men described by the Prime Minister as among India's best soldiers, it hasn't really dented the morale of the Indians working in Afghanistan.For the 4000 Indian working in that country, it remains business as usual. The buzz in every market place in Kabul is the attack at the Indian Embassy. It is the worst suicide bombing since the Taliban were sent packing in 2001. The overwhelming emotion is of heartfelt regret that 'our brothers and friends' as locals refer to Indians were the target.Time stands still in political Counsellor Venkat Rao's office for the moment when he would never return.A week later, the nightmare of that attack just cannot be swept away. The concrete rubble and jagged pieces of metal may have been removed, the battered cars may have been taken away, but the audacity of attacking the Indian Embassy is still not lost on anyone. The message clearly illustrated by a decapitated flag pole. But the Embassy is back to business, with morale high.''(After the blast) our staff has stood up to be counted. I proposed that all non-essential staff may leave but there was unanimous decision on first priority to get the embassy back on its feet,'' said Jayant Prasad, India's Ambassador to Afghanistan.''In fact, an officer on leave for his kids' admission had left Lucknow after seeing the pix he was already in Delhi with a ticket when we called him,'' he added.The attack on the mission is being seen as Pakistan's ISI crossing an unwritten line. Off the record, the top officials have compared it to the attack on Parliament. But Prasad says that he and his staff is committed.So why is Afghanistan so important?One of the most important developmental projects that have huge strategic implications are the 218-kilometre Zaranj-Delaram road project, which will be ready on Thursday. The link in the South-West will reduce Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan for over-land access. It also provides an alternate route for Indian goods. Pakistan doesn't allow transit of goods. So the road will link Zaranj, on Afghanistan's border with Iran to Delaram on what is called the garland highway or ring road across Afghanistan. The garland highway links Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz. Since 2003, India and Iran have been cooperating in developing the Chabahar port and the road project will open up through the port.Sameer Bhasin, an entrepreneur in Afghanistan wears many hats. He handles the national carrier's operations in Afghanistan, is an advisor to the government on investment and owns a popular restaurant Anaar. The political situation is often discussed over mouth-watering pulao and kebabs. And though he is cautious, he is one of over 4000 Indians aware of the new dangers.''Twenty-three Indian private and public companies operate in Afghanistan. One of them is Aster, a telecommunications and infrastructure company,'' said Sameer Bhasin, an entrepreneur.Being cautious is the watchword for Indians in Afghanistan. But, it is clear even after the dust and debris from the suicide bomb has settled that this attack has reverberated in the corridors of power in the capital. India is clearly worried at this escalation with Afghanistan now emerging as the new battleground between New Delhi and anti-India forces.

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