The Future of the Hindu Kush Mountain Transportation

salang_pass_tunnel(Image: Wikipedia)

In general, the public sectors primary goal is to seek to provide services for citizens and companies; in addition to dealing with laws and regulations. There is no profit motivation within the public sector, however; financial control has always been a key element. The prime motivation for private sectors has always been profit maximization. Private sectors have no interest in taking ownership of the greater public interest. In several countries where infrastructure is divided between multiple private entities, experience shows that we see suboptimal public solutions with an increase in prices. The Salang tunnel is outdated and in need of an urgent and major upgrade, or a permanent closing due to its poor conditions and multiple accidents. Ideally, infrastructures should always be in the hands of the government. The article does not talk too much about Afghanistan’s expertise, nor if they have the resources and money to carry through the one billion dollar project. We are then left with these three essential questions:  who will lead the project? What will the final solution be? Who will fund it?

The Salang tunnel was built in the 1960’s to accommodate about a thousand cars per day. Today, there are up to ten thousand vehicles passing through everyday.  The tunnel has outgrown its original capacity by ten times, so fixing it will not solve the issue of capacity, per se. Building tunnels is not a simple task and extensive expertise is needed to construct a safe and sustainable tunnel. There is most likely not one single entity, public nor private, who will be able to carry out such an extensive and complex project. In lieu of that, Afghanistan is dependent on a foreign entity to implement the desired solution of a safe pass-way between Afghanistan and Central Asia. As of the corruption index of 2015, Afghanistan is ranked as number 166 out of 167 participating countries, so by doing any work in Afghanistan is going to be a highly complex and dangerous task.  On one hand, there are constant wars going on, especially with the Taliban. The Taliban has lost its dominant position in the surrounding Salang tunnel location. The citizens of the region have fought the Taliban and are continuing to fight for a better and safer future. Since Afghanistan lacks the overall expertise for construction projects, the country is dependent on foreign assistance. The best tunnel builders in the world, come from Norway; making them the perfect partner for Afghanistan. Since this project will most probably be a hybrid solution between assistance and aid, the government needs to take the lead.

Will fixing the tunnel or building a new tunnel solve the existing problem? Fixing the tunnel will be the cheapest solution, but it has to be carried through during summer due to the high risk of avalanches during the winter. Therefore, the cars must take the longer alternate route, through the unsafe Northern territory. Building a completely new tunnel is a more expensive solution, as well as it requiring foreign expertise. Due to the ten-fold increase in traffic, today’s tunnel will not be the way into the future. The capacity must increase in order to effectively make full use of the tunnel. The only solution is to expand the number of lanes. The best proposed solution would be to build an entirely new tunnel parallel to the existing Salang tunnel. The traffic would then be moved into the new tunnel, whilst the original Salang tunnel is under repair. Once it has been fully repaired, the two tunnels would be assigned a one-way road. One tunnel would have both lanes going in one direction, and the other tunnel would have both lanes going in the other. This would decrease the amount of traffic, car collisions, and dangers within the tunnel.

On the global GDP ranking per head for 2015, Afghanistan is ranked as number 164 out of 187 countries. Finance is an obvious obstacle in creating major projects. As of today, Afghanistan has two billion USD in national debt. Increasing this with an additional one billion for a two-kilometer tunnel project is not likely to happen in the traditional way.  The most likely partner to fund the project would be the Asian Development Bank (ADB). ADB has traditionally focused on energy, transportation, agriculture, natural resources, and governments in Afghanistan. Today, ADB is about 60 percent of the total national debt of Afghanistan.

As a final conclusion, the Afghan government must lead the project, but the expertise of developing an extra tunnel must be sourced from other countries (e.g. Norway). ADB would have to finance the one billion USD project over a 25-year payback period. The tunnel users would have to pay a toll fee to utilize the tunnel, and the fee must be around 10 USD in order to have a zero sum project over the 25-years. One vital element during the process is compliance and to keep corruption under control. The proposed solution will secure a safe and sustainable future for the transportation in the Hindu Kush Mountains, and hopefully this is another element of securing peace within Afghanistan.








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