NEW DELHI, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Indian companies are waiting in the wings for their piece of the Afghan reconstruction pie, estimated at a value of $9 billion.
Speaking at a "Reconstruction of Afghanistan" meeting of business leaders, India's special envoy to Afghanistan, S.K. Lambah, highlighted the need for reconstruction of Afghanistan's infrastructure, including roads, airports, bridges and telecom facilities.
Health, education, financial system and agricultural facilities also need urgent rebuilding, he noted.
The challenges facing Afghanistan are vast. The banking and financial system in Afghanistan has collapsed. Approximately 1,000 miles of roads need to be rebuilt and 60 percent of the houses are damaged. Only 23 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and nearly 7.1 million Afghanis face food shortages.
But amid all this destruction is a large-scale business opportunity for Indian businesses that specialize in infrastructure work of all kinds.
The Confederation of Indian Industry showcased India's reconstruction industry's abilities for the Afghans recently in Bangalore and plans to open an office in Kabul in February.
"Today Afghanistan is one place where opportunities are immense for Indian companies and historically we have had good relations with the country," S. Sen of the CII said.
Larsen & Toubro, India's biggest construction firm, has submitted a proposal to the Indian government to rebuild schools and hospitals and set up power plants across Afghanistan.
"Whatever falls into place, we are ready to get into it," Larsen & Toubro General Manager K.R. Palta said.
Godrej & Boyce, the office furniture firm that has supplied cupboards for schools and 5,000 frameworks for emergency shelters, has made similar offers and automobile maker Telco is keen to once again supply the buses it sold in pre-Taliban Afghanistan, the Indian Express reported.
Other big Indian companies that will be bidding for reconstruction contracts include Kirloskar for generators, Indal for construction and ABB for power plants.
"We can supply desks and chairs for hospitals, offices and schools. The other day, there was a picture from Afghanistan showing that a minister did not have even a table in his office," said Godrej & Boyce's Dhruv Sharma.
Automobile company Mahindra and Mahindra has sent a proposal to the government to supply ambulances for the Afghan hospital. Indian government has already started the revival of Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul.
However, the biggest hurdle facing Indian companies is access to Afghanistan, as Pakistan prohibited Indian access to its airspace the beginning of this year with the downturn of relations between the two countries. The countries have also sealed all road links.
Lambah said that India should be ready to compete with neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia, which have road connectivity with Afghanistan.
However, the interim administration in Kabul has shown keen interest to revive its previous ties with India. The first flight of Afghanistan's Ariana Airline was to New Delhi earlier this month and regular Kabul-Delhi flights are scheduled to commence from Feb. 17.
Indian government has opened a $100 million line of credit for the interim administration of Afghanistan to aid them in the reconstruction process.