Afghanistan's multimillion 'highway to nowhere'

New road is a white elephant, Foreign Office insider says

A flagship multimillion-pound highway linking Afghanistan's major cities is of no use to the majority of the population and at risk of crumbling during the winter, a secret report presented to British ministers has warned.

The 2,700km "Highway 1", largely bankrolled by American and Saudi millions, was seen as a symbol of Afghanistan's emergence as a modern democratic nation after decades of oppressive rule and conflict. But senior figures within the Foreign Office (FCO) have questioned the priority given to the project – and the standard of the finished road.

A confidential paper under discussion in the department, seen by The Independent on Sunday, claims the road is not completely "metalled" with a durable surface, and has a layer of tarmac too thin to last an Afghan winter, leaving lengthy stretches in danger of disintegration. The document also complained that the highway was "of no value at all" to the vast majority of Afghans, who need better local roads to help them travel to towns closer to home.

Highway 1, it seems, is the road to nowhere, a metaphor for costly, ill-planned development projects which have acted as a bran tub of kickbacks for corrupt officials. The US spending watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has claimed that Washington cannot account for billions of dollars spent on aid projects in the country.

The white elephants include: six Afghan National Police buildings so poorly constructed they were unusable; the Kabul Power Plant, built at a cost of $300m (£194m) to the US taxpayer, and beset by delays, cost increases and fit now only as an expensive back-up facility; and a project to upgrade the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River which is years behind schedule, and for which a huge generator transported in pieces through a bitter fire fight with insurgents remains unassembled and rusting, partly because the concrete needed for its foundations was never delivered.

The shortcomings of Highway 1 have emerged as more than 70 nations prepare to rubber-stamp almost £10bn in additional aid to the country over the next five years. The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said the donors' conference in Tokyo today will demand that Afghanistan slash its budget shortfall in return.

But the record of development aid ploughed into Afghanistan so far is questioned by the leaked report on the country's future. The paper, written by a senior figure in the FCO, labels Highway 1 as "a classic illustration of the challenges that continue to hinder a swifter economic recovery".

It adds: "This major road system, started in 2002, is still not fully metalled due to a combination of siphoning away of funds, and contracts being outsourced through layers of companies. Once everyone has taken their cut, the layer of tarmac put down is too thin to last an Afghan winter. For the 91 per cent of Afghans who venture no further than their neighbouring town, it is of no value at all. More hearts and minds would have been won if a strategy was followed that linked together towns and the regional economic hubs, allowing market routes to open up."

USAid (the US Agency for International Development) lists the road as one of its "major accomplishments" in Afghanistan, "giving Afghans better connections to their country's major transportation routes, and facilitating their access to markets, schools, health clinics and government services". But locally based critics have complained that the road is expensive to maintain, largely used by foreign military and aid traffic, and that it has become a magnet for roadside bomb attacks, Taliban offensives and illegal roadblocks.

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, said: "The international community has been throwing money at problems without making sure that it is used effectively. I would suggest that a group of key ambassadors be invited to travel by road from Kabul to Kandahar, then ask them again how many kilometres of road have been built and asphalted. In other words, counting kilometres doesn't say anything about how the roads can be used."

The criticism of the roads strategy was reflected in a World Bank report earlier this year which concluded that Afghanistan's road network was crumbling away due to lack of maintenance over the past decade, with most donors more interested in building roads than keeping them in good order. The report, Afghanistan in Transition: Looking Beyond 2014, calculated it would cost £1.9bn to put the country's network into a maintainable state

The £17.4m budget allocated for road maintenance this year – a fraction of the £187m needed – is "far too little to meet the road network's maintenance needs", the report states.

The Department for International Development has pledged to improve monitoring of the £178m ploughed into Afghanistan every year, amid concerns that money intended for vital aid programmes is being diverted into the hands of local officials. Mr Mitchell last night told the IoS that the Tokyo conference aimed to "nail down" support for the Afghan leadership among ordinary citizens as foreign forces prepare to leave.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to outline new anti-corruption and accountability measures, as he tries to win support for a funding package his officials have drawn up with the World Bank. Mr Mitchell said: "It is very important that our commitment continues. We are in Afghanistan in pursuit of Britain's national interests, so that it can no longer be a haven for terrorists."

Of the criticisms of Highway 1, he said: "All these projects are difficult to deliver. Often we are working in extremely difficult circumstances."

Additional reporting by Denise Cheuk

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape