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Afghanistan's Kabul-Kandahar Highway Opens - 2003-12-16

Afghanistan has marked a development milestone, dedicating a new road connecting its two largest cities.

Already in use for several weeks, the road connecting the capital, Kabul, with the southern economic hub of Kandahar has cut driving time between the two cities from 15 hours to about seven.

Transitional President Hamid Karzai led a ceremony to dedicate the road, which will eventually continue on to the western city of Herat, a key location for trade with Iran. Officials of the United States and Japan, key donors to the project, attended the ceremony.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and others pointed out that building the road cost lives. Anti-government insurgents, who remain one of the main obstacles to Afghanistan's reconstruction, kidnapped or killed a number of road workers during its construction.

"This is a day not only to celebrate a feat of construction, it is also a day to remember those who were injured or killed while working on this project," he said.

Yet despite the heavy cost, many see the Kabul-Kandahar road as a major achievement for Afghanistan and its foreign allies. President Karzai emphasized the central role that roads play in this land-locked, trade-dependent nation.

To taxi driver Abdul-Ahaad, who has been ferrying passengers between the two cities for seven years, the new road is something of a miracle.

"I am so happy, so happy," he said, adding that he never expected the highway to open in his lifetime.

While he and other drivers complain about taxes and licensing regulations imposed by the transitional government, they agree that the new road is major achievement for the administration.

The dedication ceremony comes as Afghanistan's constitutional assembly, the loya jirga, meets for a third day to decide on the nation's new system of government.

Threats by anti-government insurgents to stage major attacks against the assembly have so far not materialized.

International peacekeepers report that three rockets hit Kabul, but the incidents took place far from the assembly site and caused no reported casualties.

Day three of the loya jirga was devoted largely to the question of dividing into committees.

But despite the slow start, Afghan officials are predicting that a new constitution will be adopted within about a week.