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Roads Lead to Recovery in Afghanistan

For decades, imposing mountains and a lack of good roads left Afghanistan cut off from most of its neighbors. Worse yet, Afghanistan's limited road network limited development and isolated small towns from their provincial capitals and far-flung provinces from the central government in Kabul. Over the past seven years, though, a concerted international and Afghan effort has sought to rebuild the country's roads, thus allowing increased trade and transportation.

On August 6, 2008 Afghan officials announced the near-completion of the new Zaranj-Delaram Highway that will connect Kabul with Iran's port city of Chabahar. The opening of the efficient overland route to a major port city will provide Afghanistan with access to the world's markets and make it a destination for goods from India. Currently, exports from India to Afghanistan are limited by a Pakistani ban on the use of routes through its territory for Indian goods destined for Afghanistan. Commenting on the completion of the road, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it "a major test of our joint resolve...the road has brought our two peopls closer together."

Afghanistan is looking towards further expanding its road network in the near future. Planning is currently underway on a highway that will connect Afghanistan's major economic centers with China's western Xingjian Uygur Autonomous Region through Afghanistan's Pamir panhandle. During a recent visit to China, President Hamid Karzai expressed his desire to see the road project move forward to Chinese President Hu Jintao. Afghan and Chinese officials hope the road will strengthen economic ties between both their two countries and between Eastern and Central Asia.

Roads are vital Afghanistan's development. With a proper network of roads in place, Afghans will be able to travel more easily, ship goods to a variety of destinations and maintain better contact with district centers, provincial capitals and Kabul. Since 2001, over $2 billion has been spent on rebuilding and expanding Afghanistan's road network.

The majority of the work has been focused on the Ring Road, a 1,900-mile road connecting all of Afghanistan's major cities. Scheduled for completion in 2010 (only three segments are left to be rebuilt), the road will help increase Afghanistan's official trade to $12 billion by 2016. The 300-mile drive from Kabul to Kandahar - 35 percent of Afghanistan's population lives within 30 miles of this portion of the road - that used to take 14 hours can now be done in five.

Related News: Asphalt Dreams (The Atlantic)

                      Rebuilding the Roads of Afghanistan (USAID)

                      Afghanistan's Bumpy Road to Recovery (NPR's Marketplace)

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