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Cablegate: The Places in Between: Afghanistan Dreams of an East-West

DE RUEHBUL #0468/01 0381255
O 071255Z FEB 10 ZDK




E.O. 12958 N/A
SUBJECT: The Places In Between: Afghanistan Dreams of an East-West

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1. (U) Summary: Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Works (MPW)
recently presented donors a formal proposal for an east-west
highway, one of the most ambitious and expensive infrastructure
projects proposed in the post-Taliban era. The road would create a
trade and development corridor stretching from the Iranian to
Pakistani borders and a shorter alternative to the nearly complete
ring road. With an estimated cost above $1 billion, extensive donor
outreach and coordination will be necessary to ensure this signature
project is funded and completed. Although India has expressed
interest in supporting this project, it was not represented at the
donor meeting. We will make sure Indian Embassy representatives are
invited to the follow-up meetings. We will also continue to
coordinate with the Japanese and Italian Embassies, as both their
Ambassadors have expressed possible interest in the project. End

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The Road: A Major Undertaking
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2. (U) At a February 3 meeting, the MPW unveiled a plan for a
665-kilometer highway from Herat to Gardandewal via the Salma Dam,
Kamenj, Bedan and Chaghcharan. (The Italian Government, which was
in attendance, has already committed to fund a road from Gardandewal
to Kabul.) Bisecting the ring road, the highway would cut through
some of Afghanistan's most rugged territory and would gain nearly
7,000 feet in altitude from Herat to Ghor and Bamyan provinces.
According to the MPW, the United Nations wanted to build the road in
the 1950s, and the U.S. expressed interest in 2002 but was unable to
identify funding. If funded, MPW representatives said the road
should take five years to build.

3. (U) Approximately 1 million Afghans live in areas along the
potential road. Central Afghanistan is one of the poorest areas of
the country, and many residents migrate to cities in search of work.
MPW representatives said a road would ease the burden on
Afghanistan's cities by improving the economy of the central
provinces, creating incentives for migrants to return. MPW also
estimates that a road would lower vehicle operating costs by $48
million per year by reducing the driving distance between Kabul and
Herat from 1,047 to 750 kilometers. A highway could increase
tourism to the historic sites along its route, and many sites with
mineral potential, including marble mines at Chesti Sharif, lie near
the road.

Cost Estimates May Not be Realistic
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4. (U) The feasibility study for the road, completed in 2005,
estimates a cost of $600,000 per kilometer and a total cost of $432
million. However, road experts in attendance agreed the current
cost of construction on similar roads is between $800,000 and $1
million per kilometer - before accounting for security, consultant
and project management fees and the cost of demining, environmental
mitigation and resettlement. These supplemental costs tack on an
additional 65 to 70 percent of costs, pushing the cost per kilometer
toward $1.5 million - and the total cost to approximately $1 billion
at current prices.

5. (U) MPW's proposal divides the project into six portions. The
ministry seeks donors for each. Stated costs per section range from
$17.4 million for Kamenj - Bedan to $198 million for Chaghcharan -
Gardandewal. However, here too, the actual cost of these sections
will likely reach $35 million and $400 million, respectively, when
security and consultant costs are added and the construction costs
are computed more accurately.

Donors Interested, But Need More Information
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6. (U) Besides the Government of Italy, other potential non-U.S.
donors in attendance included the World Bank, Asian Development
Bank, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Germany's KfW
Development Bank and the European Commission. (Note: the EC
representative announced his organization cannot commit to
large-scale infrastructure funding but is able to share its
experience funding the earlier Kabul-Jalalabad-Torkham Gate road.)
The Italian Government representative said Italy is interested in
supporting additional sections of the road, mainly around Herat,
where Italy oversees Regional Command - West, but Rome has only
authorized $12 million over three years from 2011, and only as part
of a multilateral consortium. India has expressed interest in this
project but was not represented at the meeting. Some donors
broached the idea of utilizing the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust
Fund, a pool of assistance from many countries, as a possible
funding mechanism, particularly since even the least expensive
sections are beyond the reach of small donors.

7. (U) MPW representatives emphasized that this meeting was an
initial presentation and that more specific, detailed information

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will be provided to interested donors. Attendees questioned where
this project stands in the long list of the Afghan Government's
development priorities.

8. (U) Comment: An east-west road is a compelling project, despite
its difficulty and cost. The ring road has brought tangible
benefits to people living near it and the country as a whole, and a
central road is a logical next step. Experience building the ring
road has shown that security conditions near a project site can
change dramatically in short time and donors and contractors must
commit to finishing large-scale projects despite changes on the
ground. As a result, the Afghan Government must present a more
realistic estimate of its cost and actively coordinate among donors.
Assuming GIRoA does so, we will actively work to support this
project among other donors, and will consider how we can add support
given our own limited infrastructure budget. (NB: During a meeting
with Ambassador Wayne on February 4 (septel), the Japanese
Ambassador noted Japan's potential interest in the road and we
agreed both Embassies will keep in touch on this project.) End


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