Increased social and economic interconnectivity has the potential to reduce poverty, foster trade and cultural exchanges, and promote economic growth in Central Asia.Fostering cooperation between countries and communities is crucial for the future development of Central Asia. Increased social and economic interconnectivity has the potential to reduce poverty, foster trade and cultural exchanges, and promote economic growth in the region while more broadly contributing to its overall stability. As part of AKDN’s broader regional cooperation agenda, it is creating linkages between the communities in the mountainous areas of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) in Tajikistan and Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province.
Despite linguistic and cultural similarities between inhabitants of these two regions, their social and economic connections have been almost non-existent since the Soviet era, when boundaries were drawn at the Pyanj River, which defines the Afghan-Tajik border, and both sides became a part of separate political and economic landscapes. The populations of both regions’ high mountain areas are physically isolated from their national, political and economic centres, contributing to their administrative and political underdevelopment.
To address these issues and serve the needs those in the region, AKDN is engaging in a number of initiatives meant to increase the inter-connectedness between people on both sides of the Tajik-Afghan border so that they may share resources and benefit from each other. By doing so, AKDN hopes to help bring stability to the region, foster stronger cultural connections across the border and improve the living conditions of resident communities.
The Tem bridge is one of four between Afghanistan and Tajikistan constructed by AKDN.Since 2002, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) has spent US $1.7 million to build and rehabilitate four bridges over the Pyanj River at Tem, Darvaz, Langar and Ishkashim that now connect the Gorno-Badakhshan region in Tajikistan with Afghan Badakhshan. Rehabilitation efforts have significantly increased the capacity and safety of the bridges, and have been accompanied by the building of border posts and cross-border marketplaces to facilitate the flow of trade.
For Afghans, the bridges have provided better food security, offered access to critical social services such as emergency medical treatment at Tajik hospitals and created more efficient delivery channels for humanitarian aid in once remote areas.
On the Tajik side, they have facilitated access to a wider variety of better priced goods transited from China, Iran and Pakistan by Afghan traders. The local cost of tea on the bordering Tajik side has dropped by one third while more supplies like salt, cement, household goods and fabrics have become available to those in remote areas than ever before.
The bridges are also facilitating the exchange of ideas and the strengthening of relations across the border. These new connections represent important steps towards achieving peace and stability in the region. Two more bridges to be built by the Foundation at Vanj and Shurabad are currently in the planning stages.
Encouraging Cross Border Trade
Through the Mountain Societies Development Programme (MSDSP), a programme of the Aga Khan Foundation, the AKDN sponsors enterprises that take advantage of the opportunities afforded by markets along the Tajik-Afghan border. Providing communities on both sides of the border access to an expanded market drastically increases the potential for income generating activities and improved livelihoods.
Regularly held cross-border markets, such as this one in Khorog, Tajikistan, provide opportunities for Afghan and Tajik merchants to meet and exchange goods.Cross border activities began in December 2006, when MSDSP procured permission for Afghan women to enter Tajikistan at Darvaz in order to exchange ideas and lessons with their Tajik counter parts and promote gender equality. Afghan traders were also provided with the opportunity to visit the Bazaar in Darvaz. A cross border market now operates on Saturdays, and given the overwhelming success of initial operations, openings on additional days are expected in the near future. The cross border markets are also intended to be expanded to other border communities, including Shugnan, Ishkashim and Shurabad.
MSDSP also seeks to create an enabling environment for cross-border cooperation. It has hosted trainings for government, border security officials and businessmen in Tajikistan on administrative and commercial regulations.
Collaboration between IPD Tajikistan and TTC Afghanistan
AKDN Agencies are working with the Institute of Professional Development (IPD) in Tajikistan and the Teachers’ Training Centre (TTC) in Afghanistan, both government organisations, to expand the sharing of educational experiences across borders.
With the support of AKDN, IPD has conducted management trainings, translated teacher guides and Tajik learning resources into Dari, and sent key staff to Afghanistan to support TTC. In one instance, two science specialists from IPD spent 4 days conducting a needs analysis on the TTC Science lab. Based on the visit, a 12-day training module was developed and delivered, in 2007, to build Afghan teachers’ skills in usage of science resources.
University of Central Asia (UCA)
The University of Central Asia was founded by an international treaty and charter in 2000 by the Governments of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, and His Highness the Aga Khan. UCA was established to offer an internationally recognised standard of higher education in Central Asia and create knowledgeable, skilled and creative graduates who will contribute leadership, ideas and innovations to the transitioning economies and communities of the region.
In Khorog, the UCA School of Professional and Continuing Education has begun offering training courses in English for Business, management accounting and accounting technology to employees of Afghan state and civil society organisations. Over 30 Afghan nationals have participated so far.
Construction on a UCA campus in Khorog, one of three campuses to be built in Central Asia, is currently in process and is being designed for approximately 1,000 students and over 100 faculty members. UCA is in the early planning stages for a learning centre to be constructed in Faizabad, Afghanistan. It is also considering developing a distance learning programme that would allow UCA programmes to reach Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
The Tajik and Afghan offices of FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, an affiliate of AKDN, work closely together to coordinate response efforts to disasters in the mountain areas of Badakhshan. In many cases, remote communities in Afghanistan may be more easily reachable by crossing the border from the Tajik side then by going through Afghanistan itself. FOCUS’ approach to disaster management in the region is strongly supported through the sharing and utilisation of contiguous geographic information and radio communication systems across Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
The Afghan beneficiaries of PamirEnergy's new cross-border transmission line will include some 350 households, a local hospital, and a main government building.Energy
PamirEnergy, a company of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, has worked with partners to invest over US $25 million in rehabilitating electrical infrastructure and expanding hydropower capacity in the GBAO region. In June 2008, the company opened a cross-border transmission line which will connect its power grid in Tajikistan to the Shegnan district in Afghanistan. The line will enable the company to share its surplus power in the summer months and represents an important step towards bringing the benefits of PamirEnergy to other parts of Central Asia. If successful, the company expects to replicate this pilot project in other villages along border.
AKDN is striving to ensure that quality hospital care is available for the communities of the region, including GBAO and the border districts of Afghan Badakhshan. Meeting the needs of individuals in these areas will likely require a quality secondary care facility with tertiary elements that can respond to the specific epidemiological needs of the population. Given the central location of Khorog, Tajikistan and its proximity to a UCA campus, a potential hub in the region, AKDN is considering investments with partners in the health sector that would be able to serve a wider regional area.
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