By Syed Zafar Mehdi

Stung by ‘library’ remark, India lists Afghan projects to “educate” Trump

January 5, 2019

TEHRAN - Donald Trump has become famously infamous for his eccentricity, grandiloquence, and off-the-cuff statements devoid of logic and lucidity. On the receiving end have been both friends and foes.

During his first cabinet meeting of the year, the megalomaniac reality show star turned president fired a salvo at an important regional ally – India. And the salvo backfired, putting him in a tight spot.

Trump mocked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for funding “a library” in Afghanistan, saying it wouldn’t be used in the war-ravaged country.

“I get along well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Library! That’s, like, five hours of what we spend (in Afghanistan),” he said.

The remarks were made in the context of the growing cost of America’s engagement in the war-torn country, saying that India, Russia and Pakistan should be the ones fighting the Taliban.

“Why is not Russia there? Why isn’t India there? Why isn’t Pakistan there? Why are we there? We are 6,000 miles away,” Trump said, while answering a reporter’s question.

Referring to the library, Trump said Modi is “very smart”. “We are supposed to say, ‘Oh, thank you for the library’. Don’t know who’s using it in Afghanistan. But it’s one of those things I don’t like being taken advantage of.”

Although there was no official reaction from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, Indian media quoted many top government and opposition leaders denouncing remarks of Trump.

In an unofficial rebuttal, Modi government listed projects worth $3 billion to “educate” Trump on the level of its investment, stakes and contribution in Afghanistan.

It pointed out the “critical role that developmental assistance can play in transforming human lives” and reminded the U.S. president that “India does not send its armed forces abroad except under the specific mandate of UN peacekeeping operations.”

A report in Times of India, quoting ‘official sources’, said India objected to Trump’s comments, stating that the libraries represent India’s contribution to community development in Afghanistan, in addition to billions the country is spending on roads, dams and the country’s new parliament building.

Indian embassy in Afghanistan stated that the current development partnership between New Delhi and Kabul makes India the war-torn country’s largest donor in the region.

It was not clear which library Trump was referring to, but his remarks raised many eyebrows in India, across party lines. Both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress condemned Trump’s attempt to “undermine India's developmental work” in Afghanistan.

“Maybe Trump should know that while he is decrying every other help in Afghanistan. India has been building not only libraries, but roads, dams, schools and even parliament building,” Ram Madhav, BJP general secretary and spokesperson, said.

“We are building lives, for which the Afghan people thank us, no matter what others do or don't,” he added.

Congress said India did not “need sermons from the U.S. on Afghanistan.” “Under Dr Manmohan Singh, India helped build the Afghan National Assembly. Humanitarian needs to strategic economic partnership, we are one with our Afghani brothers & sisters,” Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said.

Senior Congress leader and noted author Shashi Tharoor said the “derisive comment” by Trump on India building a library in Afghanistan was a “stinging indictment of the BJP govt’s failure” to convince the U.S. of India’s “bonafide credentials in Afghanistan.”

“We should be proud of our role in Afghanistan and teach U.S. about it,” Tharoor said

Author Radhika Nathan said apparently India did not fund libraries in Afghanistan. “But even if we did, we have to defend building libraries now,” she asked.

“The way India has supported Afghanistan, without bombing them, devastating them, and making them a vassal state - has been remarkable. No wonder Trump doesn't get it,” said Harini Calamur, writer and filmmaker. “And, in any case Libraries are important. Reading helps prevent people like Trump.”

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