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  • Reopening Silk Road Links: On November 3, 2002, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmonov, His Highness the Aga Khan and Afghanistan's Vice-President Hidayat Amin Arsala inaugurated the first of a series of bridges, built by the Aga Khan Development Network, across the Pyanj River. The bridge, the first to cross the river in over 20 years, is expected to improve the flow of aid, commerce and trade within Central Asia.
    AKDN/Gary Otte
Aga Khan and Tajik and Afghan leaders open bridge into Afghanistan

Tem, Tajikistan and Demogan, Afghanistan, 3 November 2002 - Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmonov, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims and Afghanistan’s Vice-President Hedayat Amin Arsala today inaugurated the first of a series of bridges across the Pyanj River that will consolidate permanent overland links between Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The US$400,000 project, undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network, in collaboration with the two governments, will improve significantly the flow of aid, commerce and trade within Central Asia. It includes the construction of border posts at each end of the bridge, a link road on the Afghan side and a small marketplace on the Tajik side.

“Bridging the Pyanj River today means creating a corridor of hope and opportunity for this entire region,” said the Aga Khan. “By facilitating the flow of goods, services, knowledge and technology in both directions, this bridge will allow communities on either side of the frontier, as well as neighbouring countries, to gain from one another and to contribute to one another’s welfare.”

“Today,” said President Rahmonov, “marks an important beginning.” “This bridge demonstrates the commitment of the government and people of Tajikistan to opening communications with, and bringing development to, Afghanistan. It stands as a concrete example of how international organisations such as the Aga Khan Development Network can enhance collaborative projects between governments in the region.”

“For the people of Afghanistan, this bridge strengthens a major lifeline, both for the inward flow of assistance and the outward access to markets,” said Vice-President Arsala. “The role of the Aga Khan Development Network has been catalytic here. We see this project as a model for intergovernmental initiatives in co-operation with other credible international organisations.”

Thousands of residents on both sides of the river witnessed the historic occasion as the three leaders joined together in a ceremony at the mid-point of the bridge between the two countries.

With a length of 135 metres along a single span, the longest suspension bridge joining the two countries will carry both commercial and passenger traffic. It will also connect hitherto inaccessible parts of Afghanistan to its northern neighbours. The only existing bridge linking the two countries is at Ishkoshim to the south-east which enables access into the remote Wakhan province.

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The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. The Network’s agencies work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion and its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual social development budget is in excess of US$150 million. 

The AKDN has, since 1993, launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia in areas ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation. These include the creation of Mountain Societies Development Support Programme whose rural support work covers half the land mass of Tajikistan, curriculum development for universities through the Aga Khan Humanities Project, promotion and preservation of musical traditions of the region through the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the establishment of a computer laboratory at the Tajik Technical University and the sponsorship of students and faculty for training in a variety of disciplines. Last year, in collaboration with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Deutsche Investitions und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) and the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) opened for business the largest bank in the Kyrgyz Republic, the Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank. Complementing its engagement in the financial services sector, AKFED operates an extensive micro-credit programme in Tajikistan and has just launched, in collaboration with the IFC, the Pamir Energy Company, one of the largest power projects in the region. 

During 2002, the AKDN has embarked upon an ambitious expansion of its humanitarian assistance work in Afghanistan to include a number of development initiatives addressing issues of food security, infrastructure rehabilitation, upgrading and support for healthcare and educational institutions, water and sanitation, revitalisation and urban development in Kabul and the need for investment in priority sectors of the economy such as microfinance, telecommunications and tourism.