India completes key trade road in Afghanistan

KABUL, August 07, 2008 (AFP) – India has almost completed a key road linking Afghanistan to Iranian sea ports despite Taliban attacks that claimed more than 100 lives in two years, the deputy public works minister said. The 217-kilometre (134-mile) route connects a nearly completed ring road around Afghanistan to the Iranian port cities of Bandar-i-Abas and Chabahar, the official told AFP.

Eight Indian engineers and more than 100 Afghan workers were killed in Taliban attacks since the construction of the road began more than two years ago, said Minister Wali Mohammad Rasouli.

There were a few sections of route that had to be touched up before a handing over ceremony was held in a few weeks, he said.

Landlocked Afghanistan relies mostly on Pakistan’s port of Karachi for goods arriving by sea, including supplies for the nearly 70,000 international soldiers helping to fight a Taliban-led insurgency.

The road was initially budgeted at 80 million dollars but is reported to have cost 185 million dollars, in part because of the high security risks of operating in southern Afghanistan.

The route, already open to traffic, is a welcome alternative, since goods can sometimes be held up on alternate routes