US plans to erect a multi-million dollar bridge spanning the Pyanj river between southern Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan, are proceeding, with positive implications for both countries, IRIN learnt on Monday.
"This bridge will complement the Friendship bridge at Termez in Uzbekistan, providing an additional means of getting needed humanitarian assistance to Afghans," Jennifer Washeleski, public affairs officer for the US Embassy in the Tajik capital Dushanbe, told IRIN. She added that as a landlocked country, Tajikistan was dependent on its neighbours to transit goods and facilitate trade, making the bridge a viable contributor to that country's fledgling economy.
"Having an alternative route, offers additional trade opportunities and will benefit Tajikistan, as well as other countries in the region," the US official explained.
Her comments came less than a week after an agreement on the bridge's construction between US Ambassador to Tajikistan, Richard Hoagland and that country's transport minister, Abduljalil Salimov, was signed in Dushanbe. Work on the US-financed bridge linking the Afghan and Tajik banks of the river is expected to start soon, with an expected completion date within 18 months.
According to Washeleski, the two-lane bridge, measuring some 670 metres in length, will be built at the Tajik border crossing of Nizhni-Pyanj at an estimated cost of US $30 million. "We have completed a hydrological and topographical technical investigation and are analysing the results," she said, noting potentially, construction could begin as early as the end of March 2004.
Washington is financing most of the bridge's construction, with the US Department of Defence providing much of the funding and oversight. An additional pledge of assistance has also been made by the Norwegian government.
But it is the long-term implications of the bridge's construction that will prove most significant. "The bridge will reopen historic trade routes between Central Asia and Afghanistan and we expect that it will greatly facilitate the increase of international trade for the region," Washeleski said, noting that Tajikistan would benefit from having an alternative trade route independent of its Central Asian neighbours.
As a landlocked country, Tajikistan has limited options for importing and exporting goods. Traders using the current trade routes face transportation problems, difficulties with customs at the borders and other hindrances.
Tajikistan, an impoverished nation of 6.5 million, has proven an important ally in the US-led war on terrorism and an important staging post for the delivery of international humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001.