Officials from the European Union (EU) and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) on Sunday said they will spend over $16 million to promote border trade and expand economic ties along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.
According to officials, this will be part of the Supporting Cooperation and Opportunities for Regional Economic Development (SCORED) program.
SCORED, launched on Sunday in Kabul, is a long term social and economic development project for Afghanistan and Tajikistan and will depend on ensuring stability along the 1,300km-long shared border.
According to project organizers, this stability requires collaboration and strong cooperation in economic, financial, social and cultural spheres – that can “create the condition for equitable growth and integration.”
The project will also provide a solid foundation for encouraging longer-term cross-border exchange and cooperation, and is intended to begin the process of unlocking the local economic potential of this area.
SCORED, on both sides of the border, will be funded by the European Union, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), and Germany’s KFW Development Bank.
According to officials, part of this money will be spent on the construction of a sixth bridge across the Amu River in Takhar province that will connect the two countries.
Once this has been completed, local markets and bazaars will be established on both sides of the borders – allowing business people and traders easy access to both countries.
“This money will be used for construction of a bridge and a number of other projects to promote local business and trade on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan,” Najmuddin Najm, deputy head of AKDN in Afghanistan said.
Speaking at Sunday’s event, the minister of economy, Mustafa Mastoor, said currently over 60 percent of Afghans in the border area are poverty-stricken and that such projects will turn the local economy around.
Mastoor also said serious efforts are being made to increase productivity of goods in Afghanistan in order to decrease the level of imports.
“One of the main issues that we are working is on production (of goods). In the last 17 years manufacturing levels have dropped considerably and this is why we now get almost everything from outside the country. We import 91 percent against only nine percent in exports ,” said Mastoor.
In his address to delegates on Sunday, Murodali Khomushov, a representative of Tajikistan government’s transport ministry said: “If this bridge was constructed before this, most of the problems of the Afghan people in Takhar and Tajiks on the other side of the border would have been resolved by now.”
Currently five bridges have been established along the Amu River between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. According to AKDN officials the establishment of these bridges has led to the creation of local markets on both sides of the border.
They said once the new bridge has been built, more markets will be established.
The SCORED project is also closely aligned with the Afghan government’s National Priority Programs (NPPs) which includes developing the agriculture sector, the private sector and infrastructure sector.
According to program organizers, the government of both Afghanistan and Tajikistan, the private sector and the donor community all recognize the importance of micro, small and medium sized enterprises in terms of fostering inclusive economic growth.
They say however that these continue to need capacity building, increased investment, access to financing, business support services and further trade opportunities.
In order to leverage new and improved infrastructure, SCORED will support micro and small enterprises and encourage a culture of entrepreneurship and cross-border collaboration.
Organizers said the planned activities will facilitate a conducive environment which is expected to significantly stimulate the local economy, increase trade and boost livelihood opportunities and job creation.
Project partners say they hope to positively impact the lives of over 1 million people along the border area over the five-year implementation phase.