By Air Force Capt. Jillian Torango
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 4, 2008 - More than 1,000 people attended the groundbreaking ceremony May 28 for a new $6 million road in Barak, a village in the Bazarak district of Afghanistan's Panjshir province. During the ceremony, Afghan officials from the highest levels of government discussed the critical importance of the road, which will extend from Barak to Khenj, to Panjshir and to all of Afghanistan.
Ahmad Zia Massoud, Afghanistan's first vice president and the brother of famed Panjshir martyr and Afghan national hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, was the main speaker during the hour-long ceremony, held adjacent to the construction site.
Massoud, as well as other dignitaries from the Afghan Parliament, local government and the Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team, spoke to the crowd about the history of Panjshir and the benefits the new 18-kilometer stretch of paved road will bring to the people in the central reaches of the province.
"This road provides two main benefits to the people of Panjshir," said Mohammad Tarik, former Khenj district manager. "The finished road will help people sustain and improve their lives in the future, and will provide a lot of near-term jobs and the people of Panjshir will be paid for their work."
Massoud spoke on the subject.
"I am very happy that we will have more vehicular traffic and increased construction projects in this beautiful valley of Panjshir," he said. "One of my brother's hopes was that one day there would be construction in Panjshir and that he would see a paved road that would improve the lives of the people here. We are seeing that now in the Panjshir valley, and I know that we are making my brother's dream come true."
Another of Ahmed Shah Massoud's hopes was to connect Panjshir with the other provinces of Afghanistan.
"This portion of the paved road will take us up to the Khenj District Center," Massoud explained. "We wish to have the third part of the road to Paryan built after this portion is constructed, and then someday connect Panjshir to Badakshan and then to Tajikistan. We think that the Panjshir road will be a very popular route from Kabul to Tajikistan when it is fully complete."
Mohammed Yousef, an engineer from Unique Construction Co., the contractor building the road, agreed with the first vice president.
"This is a new step for the reconstruction in Afghanistan," he said. "The road is very important for connecting the villages and provinces of Afghanistan together; it will be the artery that carries the lifeblood throughout Afghanistan."
The lifeblood of Afghanistan is not only its people, but also its economic capacity. Often, travel time is a hindrance to development.
"The road not only offers greater access to Kabul, providing economic security for the people of Panjshir, it also brings quicker and easier access to lifesaving providers such as ambulances and the Afghan National Police," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Russell T. Kaskel, Panjshir PRT commander.
Tarik focused on the fact that this road represents more than the solution to a lot of basic transportation problems. In the eyes of Afghans, it represents freedom and independence.
"This road is important, because the people of Afghanistan want freedom," he explained. "So many other oppressed places in the world, such as Berlin and the former USSR, received their freedom, and now we can add Afghanistan to that list.
"We have had to fight for so long," he continued, noting the country's past 30 years of struggle. "We no longer have to do that here in Panjshir. I promise as a representative of Khenj that, as we fought hard these past 30 years, we'll work just as hard to help the construction company build this road and make it a success."
Success for the Panjshir road means success for the country as a whole, Massoud said.
"Security is the responsibility of all Afghans, and the economy causes a lot of the security issues," he said. "This road will create economic capacity if the people of Afghanistan work and try to make a good economic situation for themselves. We have many needs, and we can't solve all of the problems of the people, but if we stand united, we will succeed."
The two-lane road is scheduled to be completed in March.
(Air Force Capt. Jillian Torango serves with Task Force Cincinnatus Public Affairs.)