Afghanistan's multimillion 'highway to nowhere'

Brian Brady, Jonathan Owen
Tuesday, 10-July-2012

 

New road is a white elephant, Foreign Office insider says

A flagship multimillion-pound highway linking Afghanistan's major cities is of no use to the majority of the population and at risk of crumbling during the winter, a secret report presented to British ministers has warned.

The 2,700km "Highway 1", largely bankrolled by American and Saudi millions, was seen as a symbol of Afghanistan's emergence as a modern democratic nation after decades of oppressive rule and conflict. But senior figures within the Foreign Office (FCO) have questioned the priority given to the project – and the standard of the finished road.

A confidential paper under discussion in the department, seen by The Independent on Sunday, claims the road is not completely "metalled" with a durable surface, and has a layer of tarmac too thin to last an Afghan winter, leaving lengthy stretches in danger of disintegration. The document also complained that the highway was "of no value at all" to the vast majority of Afghans, who need better local roads to help them travel to towns closer to home.

Highway 1, it seems, is the road to nowhere, a metaphor for costly, ill-planned development projects which have acted as a bran tub of kickbacks for corrupt officials. The US spending watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has claimed that Washington cannot account for billions of dollars spent on aid projects in the country.

The white elephants include: six Afghan National Police buildings so poorly constructed they were unusable; the Kabul Power Plant, built at a cost of $300m (£194m) to the US taxpayer, and beset by delays, cost increases and fit now only as an expensive back-up facility; and a project to upgrade the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River which is years behind schedule, and for which a huge generator transported in pieces through a bitter fire fight with insurgents remains unassembled and rusting, partly because the concrete needed for its foundations was never delivered.

The shortcomings of Highway 1 have emerged as more than 70 nations prepare to rubber-stamp almost £10bn in additional aid to the country over the next five years. The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said the donors' conference in Tokyo today will demand that Afghanistan slash its budget shortfall in return.

But the record of development aid ploughed into Afghanistan so far is questioned by the leaked report on the country's future. The paper, written by a senior figure in the FCO, labels Highway 1 as "a classic illustration of the challenges that continue to hinder a swifter economic recovery".

It adds: "This major road system, started in 2002, is still not fully metalled due to a combination of siphoning away of funds, and contracts being outsourced through layers of companies. Once everyone has taken their cut, the layer of tarmac put down is too thin to last an Afghan winter. For the 91 per cent of Afghans who venture no further than their neighboring town, it is of no value at all. More hearts and minds would have been won if a strategy was followed that linked together towns and the regional economic hubs, allowing market routes to open up."

USAid (the US Agency for International Development) lists the road as one of its "major accomplishments" in Afghanistan, "giving Afghans better connections to their country's major transportation routes, and facilitating their access to markets, schools, health clinics and government services". But locally based critics have complained that the road is expensive to maintain, largely used by foreign military and aid traffic, and that it has become a magnet for roadside bomb attacks, Taliban offensives and illegal roadblocks.

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, said: "The international community has been throwing money at problems without making sure that it is used effectively. I would suggest that a group of key ambassadors be invited to travel by road from Kabul to Kandahar, then ask them again how many kilometers of road have been built and asphalted. In other words, counting kilometers doesn't say anything about how the roads can be used."

The criticism of the roads strategy was reflected in a World Bank report earlier this year which concluded that Afghanistan's road network was crumbling away due to lack of maintenance over the past decade, with most donors more interested in building roads than keeping them in good order. The report, Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, calculated it would cost £1.9bn to put the country's network into a maintainable state

The £17.4m budget allocated for road maintenance this year – a fraction of the £187m needed – is "far too little to meet the road network's maintenance needs", the report states.

The Department for International Development has pledged to improve monitoring of the £178m ploughed into Afghanistan every year, amid concerns that money intended for vital aid programs is being diverted into the hands of local officials. Mr. Mitchell last night told the IoS that the Tokyo conference aimed to "nail down" support for the Afghan leadership among ordinary citizens as foreign forces prepare to leave.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to outline new anti-corruption and accountability measures, as he tries to win support for a funding package his officials have drawn up with the World Bank. Mr. Mitchell said: "It is very important that our commitment continues. We are in Afghanistan in pursuit of Britain's national interests, so that it can no longer be a haven for terrorists."

Of the criticisms of Highway 1, he said: "All these projects are difficult to deliver. Often we are working in extremely difficult circumstances."

Additional reporting by Denise Cheuk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



    

Top Stories

Black Cap Williamson banned from bowling

WELLINGTON: New Zealand batsman Kane Williamson has been banned from bowling his occasional off-spin in international cr...

Punjab govt. seeks four-month time for LB polls

ISLAMABAD: Punjab government has sought four-month time from Supreme Court (SC) for holding local bodies election in the...

Car bombings kill at least 33 people in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A new wave of car bombs ripped through commercial areas in the Iraqi capital and areas to the south Tuesday, ki...

Altaf, Zardari discuss law & order in Sindh

KARACHI: Muttahidat Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain and former president and co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Pa...

White House weighs petition to deport Justin Bieber

WASHINGTON: As if Barack Obama didn't have enough problems to deal with already, his administration now is being asked t...

Sindh CNG stations reopen after 24 hours

KARACHI: CNG stations across Sindh including Karachi reopened after 24-hour closure at 8:00 AM today (Tuesday), media re...

Gas leakage blast kills 1, hurts 3 in Quetta

QUETTA: An explosion occurred at a house due to gas leakage, killing at least one person and wounding three others here ...

Ministry of CAD decisions put students,teachers & parents in a fix

Islamabad:Ministry of Capital Administration and Development (CAD) indecisive attitude put the students as well as paren...

10-year-old maid allegedly tortured to death in Lahore

LAHORE: A 10-year-old girl, who works as maid, was allegedly tortured to death in Lahore, medi reported.Sources said tha...

Five friends voluntarily embrace death: police

THATTA: Police after initial investigation claimed that five friends, who were allegedly killed in Noori Jam Tamachi, vo...

Pakistan wants good relations with all neighbouring countries: PM Nawaz

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that Pakistan wanted good relations with all the neighbouring countries....

IHC dismisses Musharaf’s pleas; verdict issued

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday issued 11-page detailed verdict over the intra-court appeal filed by f...

Pakistan to get $550m after IMF review meeting on Dec. 19

WASHINGTON: International Monetary Fund (IMF) first quarter review meeting on Pakistan’s loan programme will be held on...

Kayani thanks Corps Commanders for extending support

RAWALPINDI: The 166th Corps Commanders Conference was held at General Headquarters on Thursday.   Outgoing Chief of Ar...

3 women held captive for 30 years: UK police

LONDON: Three women have been freed after spending 30 years held captive in a south London home, including one woman be...

Iran has slowed work on atomic facilities: IAEA

NEW YORK: Iran appears to have dramatically slowed work on its atomic energy program since the summer, U.N. officials s...

Young Frenchman too heavy to fly will go home by ship

NEW YORK CITY: A young Frenchman who weighs 230 kilograms (500 pounds) and was deemed too heavy to fly on a jetliner ar...

Ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf released

ISLAMABAD: Adiala Jail authorities have formally released the country’s former military strongman General (retd) Pervez...

Bolivia coca ambush leaves 4 security force members dead

LA PAZ: A weekend ambush and hostage-taking involving police and Bolivian coca growers has left four people dead, offic...

Muslim pilgrims ritually stone devil as hajj nears end

MINA: Throngs of Muslim pilgrims took part in devil-stoning ritual for a second day Wednesday in Saudi Arabia's Mina Va...


Feature / Analysis

  • Does Israel know the meaning of

    The siege of Gaza is entering its third week and the Palestinian death...

    Read More »

  • What Are You Trying To Hide, Mr. Obama?

    Western leaders and their media would have us believe that Russian-bac...

    Read More »

  • Blinded by Israel, Visionless in Gaza

    The Power and the IgnominyThe US Senate votes unanimously to defend Is...

    Read More »

  • The Israeli Pogrom of Gaza

    Political BestialityLet’s start with terms: “bestiality,” bestial is m...

    Read More »


Opinion

  • Opportunities Lost With Election Delays

    This year's election has dragged-out longer than any other similar pro...

    Read More »

  • Exclusive: A US-backed militia runs amok in Afghanistan

    Afghan militias have accumulated a lengthy record of human rights abus...

    Read More »

  • Terrorists Still Thrive in Pakistan: NDS

    Afghan intelligence officials have maintained that the recent offensiv...

    Read More »

  • Hinduism in a Tizzy

    Muslims are least interested in what happens to the latest Dharmayudh ...

    Read More »