HAIRATAN, AFGHANISTAN - Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Haruhiko Kuroda today inaugurated a 75-kilometer stretch of railway line that connects the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif to the country's bustling northern border with Uzbekistan.
"The new rail link between Mazar-e-Sharif and Hairatan will help reduce trade bottlenecks, boost commerce, and speed the flow of much-needed humanitarian assistance," Mr. Kuroda said at the opening ceremony in Hairatan.
"It represents Afghanistan's emergence as a regional crossroad for trade and commerce and - most importantly - the aspirations of Afghanistan's people to redefine their country's role in the region and in the world."
The rail link is being constructed from a $165 million ADB grant and should be completed by the end of this year. It will connect Afghanistan to Uzbekistan's expansive rail network, and to regional markets in Europe and Asia. Future links are planned, which will run across the north and to other parts of the country and region, including Pakistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Kuroda met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Finance Minister and ADB Governor Omar Zakhilwal, ADB Alternate Governor Abdul Qadeer Fitrat and other senior government officials in the capital, Kabul. In his remarks at an official luncheon, Mr. Kuroda said the rail link is a hallmark of the eight-member Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program (CAREC), which Afghanistan joined in 2005.
"Afghanistan is at the heart of CAREC, and ADB's projects in the country's road, rail and energy sectors dovetail perfectly with CAREC's vision of helping Central Asia reap the benefit of its strategic location," Mr. Kuroda said.
From 2002 to the end of last year, ADB has provided Afghanistan with approximately $2.1 billion in loans, grants, technical assistance and cofinancing. ADB's focus on infrastructure and regional cooperation is primarily demonstrated in the transport and energy sectors. Other major ADB projects in Afghanistan include portions of the North East Power System, which this time last year began bringing a regular supply of electricity into Kabul from Uzbekistan, and rehabilitation and construction of the northern portion of the country's Ring Road.