Narendra Modi remembers forgotten symbol of India’s independence

NEW DELHI,IFTIKHAR GILANI : Inaugurating the restored Stor Palace in Kabul, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the occasion not only to talk about the crucial India, Afghanistan and Iran transit corridor to link Chabahar port, but also to felicitate forgotten hero of India’s Independence Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, who had made this Palace seat of his Government of India in exile. While jointly inaugurating the restored Palace through video-conferencing with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Modi talked about connectivity-and about the Salma Dam India has built in the Herat province, in the wake of China along with Pakistan wrestling to gain a strategic foothold in the region.

The palace also knows as Kasre-e-Estar has a special significance for both India as well as Afghanistan. The Rawalpindi Agreement which marked Afghanistan’s independence was signed on its premises on August 19, 1919, and it also housed offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs till 1965. But for Modi, it was another shot to recall forgotten heroes of country’s freedom struggle. In this palace, Raja Mahedra Pratap had formed Government of India in exile and had also declared independence from the British rule in 1915. As part of 70th Independence Day celebrations, Modi had asked his party men and government to identify unsung heroes of the freedom struggle and highlight their stories to inspire the present generation. While Raja had declared himself President of government-in-exile, he had nominated Maulavi Barkatullah as Prime Minister, and Maulavi Abaidullah Sindhi as Home Minister.

“Afghanistan is a close friend. Our societies and people have had age old ties and links. It, therefore, saddens us to see that your proud nation continues to be challenged by externally sponsored instruments and entities of violence and terror,” said the PM, without naming Pakistan. Modi, while speaking from his North Block office in New Delhi, stressed that ‘whatever may be the odds, India will work with you for a bright future for all Afghans’.

But what is creating worries in India’s strategic corridors is the increasing tensions within the Kabul government and military onslaught by Taliban in the countryside. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, recently criticised President Ghani for failing to work collaboratively and deemed him undeserving to serve the government. The televised remarks last week raised fresh questions about the stability of the coalition formed in 2014 after both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory in a presidential election and there were fears of armed clashes between their supporters.

“The government is paralysed and ministers do not have the chance to speak. [Ghani] provides a one-hour lecture but he should listen to the ministers for 15 minutes. If someone does not have tolerance, they do not deserve the presidency,” he said.

The post of chief executive was created for Abdullah, a former foreign minister, as part of a US-brokered deal to end deadlock over the election. But he complained that he had been left out of key decisions, and depicted Ghani as arrogant and out of touch with the deteriorating situation in the country.

President Ghani told Modi that the ‘logic’ of peace and benevolence will defeat the logic of terror and violence. Modi also thanked the Afghan government for ‘protecting the Indian Embassy and consulates and ensuring the safety and security of Indian experts working in Afghanistan’.

During his speech, the PM talked about the successful ‘joint initiatives’ that both the countries have accomplished in the past like inauguration of the new Parliament complex in that country and the Salma dam in June this year, also called as the Afghanistan-India Friendship dam.

Modi said the Stor palace ‘brings back to life a valuable landmark of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage’. The palace, located on a hilltop in capital city Kabul, was built by Afghan King Amanullah Khan in the 1920s. Later, the palace was used by renowned intellectual/reformer and the first Afghan Foreign Minister Mahmood Tarzi (1919-22 & 1924-27), as an office. Former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, during his visit in 2011 had committed to renovate and restore the Stor Palace located in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Campus. The project was to be completed by July 2015, but took an additional one year.