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Afghan reconstruction in progress despite rising Taliban militancy

Kabul, December 12, 2007 (Xinhua): Six years after the fall of the Taliban regime, post-war Afghanistan saw its reconstruction work steadily on track in 2007 despite various security problems arising from mounting Taliban insurgency.

Over 1.1 billion U.S. dollars of investment was injected into the central Asian state in the outgoing year, mostly in the field of reconstruction run by the private sector, Omar Zakhilwal, director of the government-backed Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA), told Xinhua.

Official figures show that the investment has mounted to more than 5 billion U.S. dollars since 2001, when the Taliban was removed from power by the U.S.-led invasion.

RISING MILITANCY

The Taliban, ever since its fall, has waged years-long insurgency against the Afghan administration, attacking government forces and foreign troops across the country.

The year 2007 is the bloodiest as conflicts and militancy-related violence have left over 6,000 people dead in the war-torn country this year, a record high since 2001.

UN Secretary General's special envoy to Afghanistan Tom Koenigs said in mid-October that the United Nations had recorded 606 roadside bombs and 133 suicide attacks since January this year, a 30 percent increase from last year.

Around 1,200 civilians were killed in violent incidents this year, Koenigs said.

Security situation continued to challenge the reconstruction efforts of Afghan government and the international community in 2007 as several reconstruction projects have been suspended or re-considered due to militants' activities such as bombings, kidnappings and ambushes.

Spiraling insurgency in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, commonly known as the heartland of Taliban, have even forced the aid agencies including World Food Program to halt humanitarian support in parts of the troubled region.

However, reconstruction process in the post-Taliban nation has been continuing with the international support and progress is being made in various sectors.  

ONGOING RECONSTRUCTION

Afghanistan started the work for asphalting 5,000 km roads in 2002 and so far 3,000 km have been metalled, with work on around 700 km done this year, Ahmad Wali Rasouli, deputy to the Ministry for Public Work, told Xinhua.

He said Afghanistan's ring roads would be completed by 2009 and all 34 provinces of the country will be connected to the capital Kabul by asphalted roads by 2012.

In the field of tele-communication, Afghanistan has almost reached the level of self-sufficiency, analysts say, as more than 2.5 million Afghans own cellular phones today, an unbelievable scene during the Taliban reign.

The post-Taliban nation has further improved its communication system as the United Arab Emirate-based Etisalat launched its service here this year with more than 250 million US dollars investment, bringing the number of mobile tele-communication companies operating here to four.

Two more private airline companies, Safi Airways and Pamir airways, were launched in Afghanistan this year, increasing the number of private air companies operating in the country to three. Its first private airliner Kam Air became operational about four years ago.

Afghanistan in the outgoing year put on bid its biggest copper mine in Aynak area of Logar province, some 35 km south of Kabul, for which a Chinese company was selected as the preferred bidder in November.

Work on the project, which is said to be the second largest copper reservoir in the world, would create job opportunities for 3,000 Afghans besides boosting the country's national exchequer, Minister for Mines and Industries Ibrahim Adil said.

If realized, the Aynak project would be the first time that foreign firms invest in the country's mining industry, where privatization process has been encouraged.

Moreover, the volume of export from Afghanistan has registered 218 million U.S. dollars in 2007, up 10 percent from the previous year.

Afghanistan has also achieved in the field of agricultural products and is moving towards self-sufficiency, a bulletin of the Ministry for Agriculture and Livestock has said.

The country has harvested 5.6 million tons of grains in 2007, of which 4.5 million tons are wheat, which indicates 92 percent self-sufficiency in the field. Officials said Afghanistan needs to import only 0.5 million tons of wheat to fill the gap.

CROSS-BORDER POWER LINE

Electricity supply has long been a problem in the war-torn country, which was unable to generate enough power for its own use. There is only an average of four-hour city power supply in two days in capital Kabul and the situation is even worse in the ongoing winter.

Afghan government this year has promised a 24-hour city power in Kabul for the coming year. Though having been disappointed by similar pledges in the past, local residents are optimistic about the future.

The work for the installation of transmission lines to import power from neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan has been nearly completed so far this year, Afghan Water and Power Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Tahir Khan told Xinhua.

The country will begin importing 300 mw power from the two Central Asian countries next autumn, Khan said.

Moreover, an agreement was signed in Kabul in November 2007 to implement a 500-million-dollar electricity connection between Central Asia and South Asia, according to a statement issued earlier by the World Bank Afghanistan mission.

In its first stage, the project would transfer around 1300 mw of electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyz Republic to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

These moves have been widely hailed as signs of improved electricity supply for the power-strapped country in the coming years.

REGIONAL COOPERATION

Afghanistan hosted the 17th annual meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) in October 2007, where the delegates promised to enhance cooperation among the member states in the fields of trade, economy, transport, industry and culture.

Moreover, 2007 was the year of improving relations between Afghanistan and its immediate neighbor Pakistan, as the first-ever joint Peace Jirga or council of tribal elders was held in Kabul in August, with the participation of more than 700 people including chieftains and notables from both sides.

A similar peace gathering between the two neighbors is expected to be held in Islamabad within the next few months.

LONG WAY TO GO

Afghanistan has suffered tremendously from war, factional fighting and civil strife over the past nearly three decades, and its reconstruction and recovery from war aftermath require more time and continued international assistance, local observers said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a press conference in December called on the international community to continue their support till the war-torn country stands on its own feet.

Afghanistan's former Finance Minister Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a known economist, has said the country needs more than 30 billion U.S. dollars for its reconstruction.

"It is difficult to rebuild a country which has seen 30 years of war and lost almost all its national institutions," Noorul Haq Khan, an official at the Afghan education ministry, told Xinhua.

Analysts from the media circle believe Afghanistan needs a comprehensive strategy including military, political and economic ways to help improve the security situation and more time to fully recover from the war aftermath.

Building a strong and efficient enough government force, checking poppy cultivation, rooting out corruption and pushing forward economic and social development are among the priorities which need to be handled soon and carefully, they say.