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Cablegate: Extreme Weather Affects Traffic On Afghan-Tajik Bridge

VZCZCXRO8006
RR RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0268 0331342
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 021342Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2636
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC//JF/UNMA//
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL

UNCLAS KABUL 000268

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS, EUR/RPM
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR WOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82, POLAD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL ECON EAID ECIN ELTN TI AF
SUBJECT: Extreme Weather Affects Traffic on Afghan-Tajik Bridge

REF: 07 Kabul 4142

1. (SBU) Summary: Since December 18, 2007, the Afghan-Tajik Bridge
has operated full-time according to the agreement reached at a
December 17 meeting of Afghan and Tajik officials (reftel). Recent
winter weather conditions have led to a decrease in commercial
traffic and to the bridge's unexpected, but welcomed, use for
passenger traffic. The provincial National Directorate of Security
director is satisfied with bridge security. Afghan officials
confirm that use of the bridge remains toll-free.

Winter Weather: Decreased Traffic, Taxi Transfers
--------------------------------------------- ----
2. (U) The Afghan-Tajik bridge is open eight hours a day, six days a
week (closed on Sundays). This year's winter weather conditions,
among the harshest in Afghanistan's recent history, have affected
seasonal traffic across the bridge. Commercial traffic has
temporarily decreased to approximately 20-25 trucks and four-five
cars per day. Several days of heavy snowfall closed the Salang Pass
connecting Northern Afghanistan to the rest of the country,
noticeably affecting commercial traffic.

3. (U) The extreme weather conditions also resulted in the temporary
cessation of the passenger ferry between Afghanistan and Tajikistan
due to below-freezing fuel temperatures. While the Afghans and
Tajiks have yet to agree to pedestrian traffic on the bridge (there
is a sidewalk provided), they did agree to the emergency measure of
taxis transporting passengers to the middle of the bridge for
transfer and continuation of their journey.

No Drug Trafficking Across Bridge?
----------------------------------
4. (SBU) The provincial NDS director told PRTOff that he was
satisfied with bridge security and did not believe the bridge would
be used for drug trafficking, noting that informal border-crossing
points in neighboring districts were easier trafficking routes and
less likely to be subject to interdiction. He said that Tajikistan
had recently decided to ban imports of right-hand drive vehicles,
which had halted a profitable re-export opportunity for Afghan
traders.

Bridge Remains Toll-free
------------------------
5. (U) Afghan provincial border and customs officials confirmed that
use of the bridge remains toll-free. Customs officials currently
collect the duty according to a tariff schedule as well as a truck
tax, ranging from USD 50-200 depending on the vehicle's size and
number of axles. The Ministry of Commerce collects USD 4 per
vehicle and a tonnage charge for loading and unloading vehicles for
security inspection.

6. (U) Comment: While the extreme weather has had an impact on the
number of commercial vehicles crossing the bridge, traffic continues
to flow full-time. The temporary use of the bridge for passenger
traffic, a concession by Tajik officials, demonstrated its
feasibility. Afghan officials are pleased with the current bridge
operations and continue to look for ways to increase its use and
operational efficiency.
WOOD

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