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Cablegate: Afghanistan-Tajikistan Bridge Improves Trade and Relations

VZCZCXRO3857
RR RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #0757 0851321
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251321Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3382
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHDBU/AMEMBASSY DUSHANBE 0509
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 000757

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS, EUR/RPM
NSC FOR WOOD
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CJTF-82, POLAD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ETRD ECON EAID AF TI
SUBJECT: AFGHANISTAN-TAJIKISTAN BRIDGE IMPROVES TRADE AND RELATIONS
BETWEEN TWO NEIGHBORS

REF: 07 Kabul 4142

1. (U) This report has been co-drafted with U.S. Embassy Dushanbe.

2. (SBU) Summary: Afghan and Tajikistani officials have agreed on
several steps to improve operations at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan
Bridge. Afghan vehicle traffic to Tajikistan has increased
seven-fold and border tax revenue ten-fold since the bridge opened
in October 2007. Participants agreed to a 50-percent increase in
operating hours and addressed pedestrian use of the bridge. The
Tajikistanis discussed plans for a consular facility in Kunduz and
raised the possibility of reducing taxes levied on trucks crossing
the border. The U.S.-built border facilities will be completed and
ready for occupancy (with the exception of the truck scanning
facility) by the end of March 2008. Both parties recognized the
need to revise the bilateral agreement regulating the
border-crossing point.

3. (U) The U.S. Government hosted a meeting on March 13 at the
Afghanistan-Tajikistan Bridge to facilitate discussions between
Afghan and Tajikistani officials on bridge operations.
Representatives from the Afghan and Tajikistani ministries of
foreign affairs, commerce, and transportation, border guards, and
customs services attended the meeting, along with representatives
from PRT Kunduz and OSCE Dushanbe.

4. (SBU) The bridge opened for limited traffic (four hours per day)
in October 2007 and regular traffic (eight hours per day) in
December 2007 (reftel). Prior to the construction of the bridge,
approximately 30 trucks daily crossed the river on a ferry,
providing USD 40,000 monthly in tax revenue for the Afghan customs
office. Almost 200 trucks daily now use the bridge, which the
customs office estimates will provide more than USD 400,000 in tax
revenue for March 2008.

5. (SBU) The Afghans proposed a 50-percent increase in the bridge's
operating hours to accommodate increased traffic. The Tajikistanis
agreed to extended hours and will consider future 365-day
operations, but they expressed concerns about staffing and overtime.
While the bridge and border-crossing facilities were built to
accommodate pedestrians, the Tajikistanis remain resistant to
allowing pedestrian traffic, and pedestrians currently must use a
passenger ferry to cross the river. Both sides agreed to consider a
pedestrian shuttle service on the bridge.

6. (SBU) The Tajikistani Deputy Head of Consular Affairs, Yatimsho
Musofirov, outlined Tajikistani proposals to open a consular
facility in Kunduz Province, either at the border in Sher Khan
Bandar or in Kunduz City. The Tajikistani MFA intends to reduce
visa-processing time for Afghan truck drivers to two weeks, and
extend the visa validity period t six months. The Afghan MFA
representative wecomed the proposals and recommended the Kunduz
City option for better accessibility and transportation links.

7. (SBU) Both parties referred to a January 2008 Afghan/Tajikistani
transportation agreement to facilitate cross-border vehicle travel.
The agreement includes provisions for temporary mutual recognition
of driver's licenses and facilitated issuance of required
registration papers for vehicle use in the other country.

8. (SBU) The Tajikistanis initiated an unexpected discussion about
the reciprocal border taxes that are charged for trucks transporting
goods. According to the bilateral protocol regulating the border
crossing point, trucks are charged anywhere from USD 50-200 on entry
depending on vehicle origin and weight. Both parties were
interested in reducing or eliminating these taxes to improve trade
and will refer the matter to their respective ministries.

9. (SBU) Construction of the border-crossing facilities wll be
complete by the end of March 2008, withthe exception of the two
truck-scanning facilities that should be finished by May 2008. The
Afghan Minister of Finance plans to inaugurate the new Afghan
facilities at the beginning of April 2008. The Tajikistani side,
working on a slightly different timeline, may have a formal
inauguration, but at a later, yet unspecified date.

WOOD

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