Watch: Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and the Aga Khan IV, the head of the largest branch of Ismaili-Shi'ite followers, lay the foundation stone for what will be the fifth bridge connecting Tajikistan to Afghanistan.
SHUROOBOD, Tajikistan -- Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and the Aga Khan have laid the foundation stone of what will be the fifth bridge connecting Tajikistan to Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
It is the first bridge in the Kulob region of Tajikistan's southern Khatlon Province and will connect the Tajik district of Shuroobod with Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province*. The bridge will be 162 meters long and 3.5 meters wide.
The ceremony marking the beginning of construction took place on October 31.
The bridge is being financed jointly by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the German government-owned bank Kreditanstalt fuer Wiederaufbau (KfW), which has contributed $3 million to the cost of building. The construction of the bridge is expected to take a few years to complete.
A Shuroobod resident named Rajabmad told RFE/RL that the bridge will help to restore contacts severed during the Soviet era between people living on opposite banks of the Panj River that marks the border between the two countries.
Local residents say some 800 Tajik families from Shuroobod fled Tajikistan when the Bolsheviks arrived in the 1920s, and most of them still live on the Afghan side of the river. It is difficult for them to visit relatives in Tajikistan, a problem officials say the bridge will alleviate.
But Shuroobod resident Madhusain Razzoqov told RFE/RL he is worried that the new bridge will be used by drug smugglers who are active in the area.
The AKDN has sponsored the construction of two of the other bridges that currently span Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
Prince Karim, the fourth Aga Khan, heads the largest branch of Ismaili-Shi'ite followers. His AKDN is one of the most active charitable organizations in Central and South Asia.
* CORRECTION: We have amended this story to reflect the fact that the bridge will connect Tajikistan's Shuroobod with Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province.
Read more in Tajik here