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 TheNew 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.