Slow road from Kabul highlights China’s challenge in Afghanistan

KABUL (TIP): A new road linking the Afghan capital with a trade hub near Pakistan has been stuck in the slow lane since a state-owned Chinese company took the contract to build it two years ago, bedevilled by militant attacks and accusations of mismanagement.

The 106km (65 mile) highway section running most of the way from Kabul to Jalalabad had been slated for completion in April 2017, and delays will further hurt Afghanistan’s ambition to promote economic growth to quell a rising Taliban insurgency.

The setbacks are also a reality check for China, as it seeks to bring stability to its war-ravaged neighbour in part through extensive investment.

A giant copper mine remains untapped despite the involvement of another Chinese state firm, and Afghan officials and politicians are openly questioning Beijing’s commitment.

“Overall, the company is far behind (on) the commitments they had given to us. We are not satisfied with the company’s general performance,” Mahmoud Baligh, Afghanistan’s minister of public works, said, referring to the road project.

The work was contracted to Xinjiang Beixin Road and Bridge Group Co Ltd in late 2013 for $110 million, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which is financing the road.

It is designed as an alternative to the overburdened and sometimes dangerous highway from Kabul east to Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province and a trade gateway to Pakistan.

According to Baligh, insurgents attacked the workers’ camp several times at the start of the project, wounding some Afghans and halting work for three months.

A source familiar with the project, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said as little as 3 percent of construction was carried out in the first year.

Another person with knowledge of the project said Xinjiang Beixin changed its Afghan-based management this year because of a lack of proper oversight.

Xinjiang Beixin did not respond to requests for comment, and officials at China’s embassy in Kabul declined an interview request.

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