Caravanserai
Economy

Cross-border bridges build Tajik-Afghan economic co-operation

By Caravanserai

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Pedestrians cross a bridge during an opening ceremony in Lower Panj (Nizhnii Pyanj) at the Afghan-Tajik border on August 26, 2007. The United States paid for the bridge. The Aga Khan Development Network has financed the construction of six other bridges linking Tajikistan to Afghanistan. [AFP Photo/STR]

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has organised a project steering committee to help Tajik, Afghan and European Union (EU) officials enhance Tajik-Afghan economic co-operation, according to an AKF statement issued last week.

The committee will work under the auspices of the Supporting Co-operation and Opportunities for Regional Economic Development (SCORED) project.

The AKF and the EU finance SCORED in an effort to stimulate economic development and integration in the Afghan and Tajik border regions.

The steering committee is an annual grouping meant to facilitate regional co-operation and cross-border economic integration.

It works on ways to develop cross-border bridges and roads and to provide security for them.

In addition, the committee enables interactions between Tajik and Afghan border provinces in hopes of finding opportunities for economic collaboration.

SCORED's budget is more than €20 million, the AKF said, without specifying the time frame for that spending.

The EU's contribution to that total is more than €15 million, the EU said in its own statement last week describing work planned for 2017 through 2022.

Such economic co-operation helps drain away the desperation that can feed extremism and ties Afghanistan into regional commerce.

Tajikistan is not alone in supporting Afghanistan. The two other Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan have done their share to weave it into a network of peaceful economic growth.

Turkmenistan is building the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural-gas pipeline and exports electricity to Afghanistan. Uzbekistan built a railway extending into Afghanistan and also supplies electricity to its neighbour.

A bridge to help

As part of the cross-border integration efforts, Tajik and Afghan officials last week conferred via videoconference on plans to build a bridge across the Panj River, the EU said in its statement.

When complete, the bridge will connect the Kokul area of Farkhor district in Khatlon province, Tajikistan, with Ai-Khanoum village in Takhar province, Afghanistan, according to the Tajik Transport Ministry.

Participants at the videoconference included Tajik Transport Minister Azim Ibrohim, Afghan Economy Minister Karima Hamed Faryabi, Aga Khan Development Foundation (AKDN) officials, and Tajik and Afghan provincial officials.

The AKF is an agency under the AKDN.

The bridge is expected to be 180 metres long, according to the Tajik Transport Ministry. It did not give an estimated date of completion.

The AKDN has financed the construction of six Tajik-Afghan bridges, while the US government has funded one, according to the Tajik government.

In other aid to Afghanistan, the AKDN finances an agreement enabling Afghans in the border zone to receive free medical care in Tajikistan and works to improve the quality of health care for Afghans.

For Afghans who live in border villages along the roughly 1,300-km-long border with Tajikistan, it is easier to cross the border for medical treatment than to travel inside Afghanistan, according to doctors.

That arrangement proved critical in 2017 when a Tajik hospital treated 11 severely wounded Afghan troops, saving 10 of them.

The agreement is still in effect, though in 2020, COVID-19-related border closures forced its temporary suspension, according to Farid Muzaffarov, director of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province healthcare directorate.

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