KABUL: A contract has been signed for a $100 million highway project in Afghanistan intended to dramatically reduce travel time from Kabul to border areas near Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan. The 100-kilometer stretch of road will link the provinces of Khost and Paktia to Afghanistan’s “ring road,” which will circle the country. The contract was signed on April 26 by the Afghan and U.S. governments. The project is being funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and is scheduled to be completed in 2009.
The new asphalt road is seen by Kabul as one of the most important reconstruction projects in southeastern Afghanistan. One reason is its economic impact. The road is intended to reduce travel time between Kabul and the Khost by four hours, making it much easier for agricultural produce from the border areas to be transported elsewhere in the country.
Loren Stoddard, the director of USAID’s Agriculture and Alternative Development program in Afghanistan, explains that the primitive condition of roads on the Afghan side of the border has kept economic activity in Khost tied more to Pakistan’s tribal regions than Kabul.
“The Khost area has long been isolated from the rest of Afghanistan,” Stoddard says. “Khost has a fairly vibrant economy because of its closeness and interaction with the Pakistan economy, but it has always been somewhat of a regional economy that has been tied more to Pakistan than to the rest of Afghanistan. What we expect with this road is that Khost’s economy will then begin to be somewhat more oriented toward the rest of Afghanistan, which is new.”
But as with any development project in Afghanistan’s isolated provincial regions, meeting the time schedule for the Paktia-Khost road also depends upon maintained security along the proposed route. Work on the ring road’s southern segments often was delayed by kidnappings and killings of foreign engineers in provinces like Zabul and Ghazni.-SANA