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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs > Releases > Public Statements on South and Central Asian Policy > 2002

Inaugural Ceremony of the Reconstruction of the Kabul-Qandahar-Herat Highway

Robert P. Finn, Ambassador to Afghanistan
Kabul, Afghanistan
November 10, 2002

His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Transitional Government of Afghanistan, former President Sibghatullah Mujadidi, Dr. Abdullah Ali, Minister of Public Works, distinguished representatives of Japan and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Ministers and officials of the government, friends of this road project.

It is such an honor to be here with you on this special day.  With the inauguration of work on this 1200 kilometer long project, the international community makes a tremendous tangible investment in the future of Afghanistan. I want to recognize the great support of our valued allies and partners in Afghanistan's revival, Japan and Saudi Arabia. The contributions provided by the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia are a major down-payment on the largest infrastructure project yet in the rebuilding of the country.

Over the next three years, this project will employ thousands of Afghans and improve the lives of millions more. The different parts of the Afghan family will draw closer together and opportunities for trade, communication and industry will increase. These 1200 kilometers can be added to the 3,800 kilometers that the United States has already restored or repaired in Afghanistan since last December. Road construction constitutes a small but valuable portion of the $835 million dollars in assistance the United States has delivered to Afghanistan in the last year. The beginning of this project fulfills part of the promise made last August by President Bush when he said "we will help develop a modern infrastructure so that Afghans entrepreneurs will be able to move products from one city to the next and so that people will be able to find work and be able to put food on the table" to feed their families.

36 years ago the work of repaving the Kabul to Qandahar to Herat road was finished and Afghans were able to move speedily between these three important cities. America played a major role in the building of that road too. Unfortunately, the Afghans only had a little over a decade to enjoy the benefits of the highway before the country was plunged into its long desperate night. Foreign invasion and interference, communist rule, neglect, and yes, the bitter and merciless fighting of civil war destroyed the road and the country.

But now the road will come back in the next three years. What does this mean? How significant is this development for the people of Afghanistan? For the people in the towns and villages near the road, it could mean the difference between life and death, between ignorance and illumination. It will make it easier for the sick and injured to receive scarce medical care more quickly, for mothers in childbirth to get help, it will make it simpler for children to go to school and for fathers to try different labor markets.

The thousands of seasonal jobs created by the construction and demining of the route, the spillover effect of providing locally made raw materials, of feeding thousands of workers, of transporting people and heavy equipment, are only part of the picture. It will also mean that the famous apples of Wardak will reach the market more cheaply and rapidly, as will the glass and grapes and carpets of Herat and the cotton of Helmand. It will help the almond growers of Zabul and the Karakul shepherds of Farah.

But the impact of this project transcends the immediate and desperately needed economic benefit it will give to so many Afghans. It is a symbol of the best of the new and the old Afghanistan. It is a symbol of the old because this route from Kabul to Qandahar to Herat is a very ancient one. It is a trade route going back thousands of years. We know from a study of history that the jewels of Afghanistan, the rubies and lapis lazuli of Badakhshan traveled this way to the tombs of the Pharaohs and the temples of Babylon. Later, the same treasures went by camel caravan to the palaces of the Khalifas in Baghdad and Samarra.

Holy men and scholars also used the road Al-Biruni traveling from Khorasan to the court of Mahmud of Ghazni, Imam Abu Hanifah to the colleges of Baghdad and Kufa, Sheykh Muin al-Din Muhammad traveling from Chisht-i-Sharif to farthest India to preach the true Islam of love and light. These were Afghans influencing the world and being shaped by it. Even today the road is littered with the remains of ancient khans and caravanserais that welcomed the tired and thirsty traveler at Sar-i-Asp and at Mokur.

It is also the symbol of the new Afghanistan because a true road always has a strong connection with commerce, with openness and with the free exchange of goods and people. The last 23 years, which brought the closed borders and closed minds of the communists, the warlords and the Taliban, are an ugly exception to the rainbow scope of Afghan history. The people of Afghanistan have always been successful businessmen, master traders and skilled workers for thousands of years. It is time to draw on that rich heritage, to eliminate the last few remnants of bankrupt Marxist ideology and bureaucracy and to create an environment which provides security, which welcomes foreign investment and business, which fosters the ingenuity and hard work of the Afghan people.

There are instructive examples of countries in the region, from Tunisia to Jordan to Malaysia, being faithful to their cultural traditions while seeking to modernize their economies and make them more efficient and open. Let this be an environment which seeks to eliminate trade barriers, to make it easier for merchants and farmers to succeed whether they come from Qandahar or from Kansas or Australia. Whether they want to export Afghan fabrics to the boutiques of New York and Paris or to build hotels in downtown Kabul.

Just as we cannot allow roadblocks on this highway, we must all work to eliminate obstacles to lifting the Afghan people from the grinding poverty which is a dark reality in so many lives. Government, the private sector, foreign investors and the donor community must see each other as partners rather than adversaries. They must look for ways to cooperate and encourage, to build each other up rather than tearing each other down. This public-private, Afghan-international, relationship will play a dominant role in the construction of a better Afghanistan.

As we build this road into the desert and the mountains so let us build a brighter future for this country, and a more prosperous and safer tomorrow for all the people of Afghanistan's highways, mountain paths and forest trails.

Thank you very much.

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