But despite its name, the Ring Road has never been a
proper ring. War broke out in the 1970s before the northern section of the Ring
Road was built. And in the decades of fighting that followed, large stretches of
the existing 3,000-kilometer highway fell into disrepair or were
A main focus of internationally backed reconstruction since
the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001 has been to repair the existing
highway and finish building the remainder of the Ring Road.
But it wasn't
until October 2 that a loan to finance the final section of unbuilt highway was
announced by the Asian Development Bank -- a stretch passing though mountainous
terrain in northwestern Afghanistan near the border with
"We're providing $176 million, along with the government of
Afghanistan, which is also contributing $4 million," says Brian Fawcett, the
Asian Development Bank's country director for Afghanistan:
"And this will
be for the road from Bala Murghab to Leman, which is 143 kilometers," he adds.
"This section of road will almost complete the Ring Road. The government of
Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Development Bank will do [the financing for the
50-kilometer section] from Leman to Amalick. And then the complete Ring Road
will be finished."Still Much To Do
The bank describes the
Ring Road as the "backbone" of Afghanistan's transportation network, and its
completion will be a major milestone for internationally backed reconstruction
efforts in Afghanistan.
But Fawcett tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan
it is unlikely the work will be finished by the proposed deadline in the Afghan
National Development Plan, a strategy that was approved at a conference of
international donors in London in April 2006.
"First, the [Afghan]
government has to recruit the consultant for the project. And then, after the
consultant finalizes the design of the road, then the contractor will be
recruited," Fawcett says. "So I think that the work will start, perhaps, in the
first quarter of 2008. And the work will take 2 1/2 years to
Fawcett says the security of consultants and construction
workers is a concern that the Asian Development Bank has raised with the Afghan
government. He says the Interior Ministry has responded by sending additional
police to Badghis Province and the northeastern part of Herat Province, where
the work is to take place.Regional Economic Impact
Swanstrom is a specialist on Central Asia and director of the Institute for
Security and Development Policy, an independent think tank in Stockholm, Sweden.
He says that the completion of the Ring Road will be a major benefit not only to
Afghanistan but also to the former Soviet republics of Central
Asia."The reason why it
hasn't been completed is, first of all, financing. It's tremendously difficult
to get good finances. And then, of course, the political situation has been very
unstable. So even if you had financing, you would have a problem securing the
actual construction of the Ring Road," Swanstrom says.
of this have been very negative," he says. "Afghanistan has been a crucial
factor in the whole economic equation of Central Asia. There have been
estimates, for example, that the impact of [completing the Ring Road along with]
all the regional network of trade would be 771,000 full-time jobs. It would be
immense. It would be very positive."
Swanstrom sees the Afghan Ring Road
within the larger scope of infrastructure and transportation projects aimed at
improving trade ties in the entire region.
"Financially, it will be very
important if Afghanistan can act as a link for the Central Asian states toward"
a seaport like Karachi in Pakistan, he says. "Trade could increase tremendously.
I don't think the impact will be that large in the initial stage.
have to connect Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and, more importantly,
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan -- because that's really where the economy comes from.
Then you have the Persian-speaking crescent [of Iran, northern Afghanistan, and
Tajikistan]. For the Iranians, I don't think we should exaggerate the
geopolitical impact of this network. On the contrary, I think the Iranians will
struggle very hard to actually get the same benefits as many other
Other Infrastructure Still Needed
says that with no railroad network in Afghanistan, completion of the Ring Road
will aid Afghans enormously. But he says there are other benefits than simply
making overland travel within the country easier.
will increase by 54 percent over the next five years," Swanstrom says. "Very
much of that is through agriculture. And you will see quite substantial job
creation -- long-term employment. It is also an increase in freight. Transit
trade. Cotton going from Uzbekistan into Afghanistan and shipped all over the
world. And, of course, if you can have oil and gas transit through Afghanistan,
that's where the major gains will be made for Afghanistan in particular.
But although Swanstrom says the development of transit corridors is
"all good," he says there is one potentially negative aspect of completing the
Ring Road and tying it into the highway networks of neighboring countries -- the
possible strengthening of organized criminal groups in Afghanistan and Central
"With this new infrastructure development, it will be much easier
for the Afghani drug lords to transport heroin and opium from Afghanistan to the
rest of the region. That's something that needs to be dealt with because it's
going to be very, very difficult to handle it," he says.
"We need to
construct new institutions -- legal institutions. We have to strengthen the
police, the military, the drug-enforcement agencies. We have to make sure that
judges and political leaders are uncorrupt," he adds. "That's a huge commitment
not only from Afghanistan and the Central Asian states, but also from the
international community. And we haven't done much. We're looking at the
restructuring of much of the Afghan institutions. That's
(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ayaz Barhar
contributed to the story from Kabul.)