£18.5m bridge spans missing link in Silk Road

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Afghanistan and Tajikistan yesterday inaugurated a new $37m (£18.4m) bridge linking the two countries. The 680m (2,230ft) long structure, funded as a gift by the US Government, spans the river Pyanj and forms the missing link in the Silk Road - the ancient trading route between Europe and the Far East. It also replaces an intermittent ferry service across the fast-flowing waterway.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Emomali Rakhmon, the Tajik President, described the crossing as a "bridge of friendship". His Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, agreed, saying: "This bridge ties together not only two friendly countries but unites central Asia with southern and eastern Asia."

The bridge is located on Afghanistan's 830-mile (1,335km) border with the former Soviet republic. It is 118 miles from the Tajik capital Dushanbe and 300km from Kabul. It is hoped that the crossing will reopen old trade routes and bring prosperity and stability to the area. It could turn Afghanistan into a transit point for goods and link central Asia to the port of Karachi in Pakistan.

However, it is feared the bridge may also provide the region's drug traffickers with a new way to export their contraband. Most Afghan heroin smuggled to Europe comes through Tajikistan. "It is necessary to prevent this bridge from being used for drug traffic," Mr Rakhmon warned.