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Afghanistan - Infrastructure

For nearly 3 decades, the availability of secure energy supplies in Afghanistan was significantly disrupted by conflict. Much of the country's power generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure was destroyed, and what remained was stretched far beyond capacity. More than 90% of the population had no access to electricity. In January 2009, with the help of the Asian Development Bank and the Indian Government, electricity began to flow into Kabul along a newly constructed transmission line running from neighboring Uzbekistan. For the first time in more than a generation, the majority of the capital's 4 million people enjoy the benefits of power. In 2001, Afghanistan produced 430 megawatts of electricity. As of 2009, the installed generation capacity had grown to 1,028 megawatts. International statistics maintained by the World Bank indicate the ratio of gross domestic product (GDP) growth to electrical production is approximately $1,000 to 300 kWh.

The United States has provided considerable assistance to help develop new electricity generation capacity and provide 24-hour power in key cities including Kabul, Lashkar Gah, and Kandahar. Major projects carried out include refurbishment of power generation capacity at Kajaki Dam in the south and opening the Kabul power plant. Under the U.S. and partners’ supervision, the Afghan Government has transferred all assets, liabilities, and personnel from the troubled, state-run power utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Mosesa (DABM) to the new corporatized national electricity utility Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS). The move was a significant breakthrough in Afghan Government and donor efforts to modernize and begin to commercialize the national electricity sector.

Reliable, affordable electricity is vitally important to Afghan economic growth, prosperity, and stability. The energy infrastructure continues to be a priority for the U.S. and other donor nations.


Restoration of the “Ring Road” that links Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat with the northern cities of Mazar-e-Sharif and Kunduz continues. Much of the road has now been completed, including economically vital stretches linking Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat.

Construction of regional and provincial roads is ongoing throughout Afghanistan. Roads are of varying quality, but for the majority of Afghans, aside from the Ring Road, roads are unpaved. Afghan officials and business leaders note that the lack of paved roads and poor quality of existing roads contribute to highway security problems, increase transport times, and hamper commercial activity in general.

Numerous international donors have contributed to Afghanistan's oad network, either through direct grants to the GIRoA (Saudi Arabia, Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, Japan, UAE, Iran), through PRTs (Germany, Italy, Spain), or through private sector construction contracts (Turkey, China, US, India). USAID alone has built 40 percent of all roads constructed in Afghanistan since 2001. Between 2001 and 2008, the international community had provided in total USD 2.4 billion to construct and rehabilitate 5,000 km of roads, including the Ring Road and the nine link roads from it to the international borders.

By 2009 the 2,100 km Ring Road (RR) is nearly complete. The portions remaining were a Japanese-funded 114 km stretch between Kandahar and Lashkar Gah, an ADB-funded, Chinese-constructed 143 km stretch linking Qal-e Naw to Maimana in the Northwest, and the still unfunded, 200 km stretch between Herat and Qal-e Naw. The Japanese portion of the RR will be completed by May, if security problems did not further delay the project. By February 2009,the Chinese contractor has completed only 20 percent of the Qal-e Naw-Maimana road in part due to security problems.

The nine link roads to Afghanistan's borders were finished. Construction of the RR has had tremendous effect on trade and travel times. However, without the remaining 200 km stretch in the Northwest, the RR was unable to fully perform its intended role as the backbone of Afghanistan's transportation system and the principal ground conduit for national and international passenger and freight traffic.

Provincial roads are a priority of the local population and their leaders and in generally dismal shape. The poor state of roads makes travel time consuming and punishing for both vehicles and passengers. The 100-mile drive from Kabul to Bamyan took about eight hours. The main routes to Kabul and Herat through the central provinces were single lane, dirt tracks that are in extreme states of disrepair.


The dream of a nationwide rail network remains remote. Small-scale projects sponsored by neighboring countries require different rail gauges, matching those of the countries these projects border; while the security situation is delaying two projects and likely deterring proposals for more. The enforcement of a single rail gauge is not practical since it would fail to make connections with at least half of Afghanistan's neighbors. The Afghan Government must obtain funding and build gauge changing stations if it is serious about connecting Afghanistan's major population centers and industrial areas by train.

Afghanistan did not have an operating rail sector, though there is great interest in developing rail as an alternative to road travel, particularly for freight. By 2009 Iran had reportedly nearly completed a 60 km rail link from the border crossing point of Islam Qala to Herat. Latest estimates indicated that the Iranian government has invested USD 50 million in the project. The Afghan portion leading into Herat city had not begun. There was also a rumor that the Iranian and Chinese governments agreed at the Economic Cooperation Organization Summit in Tehran in early March 2009 to jointly fund a rail link from Sher Khan Bander in Kunduz province to Herat.

By 2010 the rail link from Herat to Torbat-E Heydarieh, Iran, funded by the Iranian Government, was more than half complete. The section the Iranians were building and funding in Afghanistan was approximately 60 km from their border eastward toward Herat. The Afghan government under the original bilateral agreement with Iran was obligated to fund construction of the Afghan railroad's second half, consisting of an additional 60 km of track onward to the western suburbs of Herat city. Iran uses standard gauge (1435 millimeter) track within Iran and is likely to use track to this specification within Afghanistan. Standard gauge is the predominate gauge in the United States.

The new Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif railway began operation in August 2011. The railway aimed to increase trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, reduce transport costs, increase vehicle operation savings, and create job opportunities. The railway construction project improved Hairatan's marshaling yard and railway station, constructed a new single-track railway line of about 75 km from Hairatan to Mazar-e-Sharif, constructed a new transshipment terminal facility at Mazar-e-Sharif, installed signaling and telecommunication systems, developed institutional capacity of the railway sector, and provided construction supervision and project management consultancy.

The railroad is 1520 millimeter gauge, the standard across the former Soviet Union. It will connect with existing Uzbek tracks at Termez, Uzbekistan. This rail line is important to coalition forces in Afghanistan, who hope it can speed up the delivery of crucial supplies through the Northern Distribution Network, routing shipments through the former Soviet states to Afghanistan.

When China Metallurgical Corporation (MCC) won the tender for Aynak copper mine in 2008, its bid included a promise to build a rail line "associated with the project." The line would carry copper concentrate and eventually smelted copper to more accessible locations for onward distribution. By 2010, World-Bank-funded analysts and a private MCC contractornoed that the company considered the railway not feasible.

Not only did MCC miss the May 2013 deadline to begin extraction of copper, the state-owned company said contentious issues have not been sorted out, and the agreement had to be reviewed. MCC had gone back on preconditions including the construction of a railway line from Hairatan to Torkham (in Nangarhar), on the border with Pakistan,a 400 mega watts power plant, smelter and a coal mine. The price of copper has fallen in the world. The price that the MCC had contracted and the conditions that it had accepted are expensive as a result.


Afghanistan's national airline, Ariana, operates domestic and international routes, including flights to New Delhi, Islamabad, Dubai, Moscow, Istanbul, Frankfurt, and Tehran. Civil aviation has been expanding rapidly and several private airlines now offer an alternative to Ariana and operate a domestic and international route network. The first, Kam Air, commenced domestic operations in November 2003.

Gradually, the road network has been augmented by 41 airports or airfields for domestic and international travel, established with substantial Soviet and American aid. The largest and most important airport was Kabul International Airport, where traffic doubled to over 100,000 passengers annually between 1969 and 1976. Topographical conditions limited the airport's capacity to handle wide bodied jets, and the government had long wanted an alternative site for a large airport.

The Soviets undertook several expansion projects at the Kabul airport and also built jet airstrips at Mazar a Sharif, Bagrami, and Jalalabad. In 1985 the government was engaged in an Af1.6 billion program to upgrade Kabul airport facilities. The runway was to be lengthened for use by larger aircraft, and a new terminal and hangars were to be built. Passenger movement rose to 127,000 in 1982, up from 106,000 in 1976.

The United States had helped build Afghanistan's other international airport, at Qandahar, beginning in 1956. It was initially conceived as a refueling stop for piston engine aircraft on the long flights across South Asia and the Middle East. The introduction of jet aircraft, however, quickly turned the project into a white elephant, and Karachi became the preferred stopover site. The $15 million, 3,030 meter airstrip and its airport facilities were little used after their completion in 1963. Only 6,000 assengers went through the airport in 1976. The Qandahar airport was operated mainly as an alternative to the Kabul airport when Kabul was fog or snow bound. During the mid 1960s the United States also completed smaller regional airports in Herat, Mazar a Sharif, Konduz, and Jalalabad. By 1978 several smaller towns located far off the main highway belt, reach as Maymanah and Feyzabad, also had airports.

In an effort to preclude Soviet influence, the United States also provided technical assistance when Afghanistan established Ariana Afghan Airlines in 1955. In 1957 the Afghan government took a 51 percent share of the company, while Pan American World Airways held 49 percent. The United States Export Import Bank later helped Ariana buy two Boeing727s for its flights to Western Europe. After the Soviet invasion, however, Ariana landing rights in Western Europe were revoked. It then flew to Moscow, Prague, Dubai, and New Delhi, but by late 1985 it either had gone out of business or was about to do so.

In 1985 only two foreign carriers served Kabul International Airport Aeroflot and Indian Airlines. Also serving as an internal carrier within Afghanistan was the state owned Bakhtar Airlines. It had a fleet of two Antonov 24s, three Canadia Twin Otters, and two Yak 40s. In September 1985 the government admitted the loss of one of the company's aircraft in a crash at Qandahar, in which 52 passengers were killed. The government blamed a resistance surface to air missile.


Landlocked Afghanistan has little functioning rail, but the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, which forms part of Afghanistan's border with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, has barge traffic.

River traffic along the Amu Darya increased rapidly as trade expanded between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. River ports unloaded 215 tons of cargo in 1975; by 1981 the government gave a figure of over 400,000 tons. Jeyretan was the principal river port, handling 86 percent of the cargo, with Shir Khan and Towraghondi the other major river ports. All three of these ports were scheduled to be enlarged during the 1980s to handle increased traffic.

During their occupation of the country, the Soviets completed a bridge across the Amu Darya. The Shirkan Bandar bridge, reconstructed with U.S. assistance, reopened in 2007 and has opened vital trade routes between Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

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Page last modified: 30-12-2015 20:14:55 ZULU