Bridging the Tajik Trade Gap

The transitional administration is trying to re-establish trading links with Tajikistan.

Bridging the Tajik Trade Gap

The transitional administration is trying to re-establish trading links with Tajikistan.

An attempt is being made to revive trade links between Afghanistan and Tajikistan with an ambitious bridge and road building project.

The two countries recently signed an agreement, which will see the construction of five bridges across the Amu River - which runs along the border - in the vicinity of the Afghan port of Sher Khan.

The accord will also involve a major repair programme for the badly damaged road running from the latter to the northern town of Kunduz.

At Sher Khan, there is only one barge to ferry people and produce back and forth across the river, but two rusting hulks dating from the Twenties reign of King Amanullah bear testament to a once bustling commercial centre.

Trade between the two countries, which was badly hit by the Soviet invasion and subsequent infighting among the northern warlords, finally came to an end in March 2000, when the Taleban captured the area and closed the port down.

Trade and passenger movements were banned, and a breakdown in relations with Tajikistan led it to erect a barbed wire fence along its border to discourage illegal immigrants.

The end of more than two decades of conflict has opened up new possibilities for commerce, and the transitional administration is trying to boost the Afghan economy by encouraging cross-border trade.

Trade has restarted in the past year - bolstered by Kabul’s decision to scrap export taxes - however Sher Khan still has a long way to go to recapture its pre-war glory. The port once boasted a big bazaar, storage yards and the Spin Zar oil company trading post. Now there are only two shops.

But in spite of the poor facilities, more than 300 cargo shipments have come in through Sher Khan so far this year.

“During the rule of the Taleban, no one could cross here. Now wood, cement, leather, fuel, spare parts and even 280 cars have been imported from Tajikistan through this port,” Sher Khan customs chairman Abdul Rasheed told IWPR, adding that prized Afghan fruit has also been exported in return.

Tax collection manager Mohammad Iqbal said that around 3.5 million afghani - 875 US dollars – in duties has been collected at the port since trade resumed. This money has been spent on building a guesthouse and two storage facilities.

As the port slowly comes back to life, some of its largest commercial concerns - such as Spin Zar - are looking to make a comeback.

“This business sent 100,000 tons of cotton a year to Europe and Central Asia before 1978, but trade was badly damaged after the Russian invasion and the wars that followed,” said Abdul Latif Fetrati, deputy at the Spin Zar processing plant at Sher Khan.

The renewed links are good news for the country’s businessmen, and repair work on the road to Kunduz is being eagerly anticipated.

Danish Kerokhel is an IWPR trainee journalist.

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