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Afghanistan to build $2 billion airport in Taliban-dominated province

DIGEST-Afg-15-02-2021

The Afghan government is planning to open a new international airport in a Taliban-dominated eastern province to transform the region into an air travel hub, the country’s aviation regulator said on Friday.

The project, estimated to cost $2 billion, was already planned in the 1970s by then-President Mohammad Daud Khan, whose killing in a coup in 1978 marked the beginning of Afghanistan’s civil war and foreign invasions that have consequently destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

To be constructed in Logar province, some 45 km south of Kabul, the airport is expected to become operational by 2024, Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mohammad Naeem Salehi told Arab News on Friday.

“The airport will transform Afghanistan’s central zone into one of Afghanistan’s main aerial hubs and will connect it to the regional and world markets,” he said, adding that the project’s feasibility assessment was recently completed by an Italian company.

The new airport will be an alternative to the main international port in the heart of Kabul, which was built in the 1970s and cannot be expanded.

“The total cost of the airport will stand at $2 billion and will be covered by the government of Afghanistan,” Salehi said, adding: “It will be an international standard airport, used annually by 10 million passengers with a capacity of 100,000 tons of cargo.”

The airport will be built in the desert of Mohammad Agha district of Logar, near the Ainak Copper mine, an area where the Taliban have enjoyed a long presence and where government forces routinely come under attack.

The province is also the hometown of President Ashraf Ghani.

“We have enough security forces on the ground in the area for the protection of the project and in addition to this local people are cooperating on this,” Logar provincial council chief Hassibullah Stanekzai told Arab News.

“This is a national project on Afghanistan’s level and the Taliban will never hinder it,” he said.

While the Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment, analysts see challenges for the project to materialize.

“The building of an airport in Logar is a laudable project, but we have to note that Logar is a very volatile province,” analyst Tameem Bahiss told Arab News.

“With the deteriorating security situation in Logar and the corruption in Kabul, this project will be very challenging,” he said.

Former government adviser Torek Farhadi praised the project, but said it should not be a priority for Kabul as “securing access and securing the airport’s perimeter will be key to convincing international airlines to land there.”

He added: “In the long run, we hope for peace in Afghanistan so it can be completed as an international hub. Security right now doesn’t allow for that.”

Farhadi said that even top government officials cannot travel by car to Logar as the security situation is so dire.