In Afghanistan, a 2-lane 'highway' tells the story of a troubled country

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Aaron Schachter: There's nothing like a road trip to get the flavor of a country, but in Afghanistan, the options for driving cross country can be limited and they could get you killed. There is just one highway which connects 16 of the country's 34 provinces, Highway 1. And even that is incomplete and in disrepair, leaving aside the risk of Taliban ambushes. Reporters from BBC's Afghan Service have launched a major series covering the length of Highway 1 and seeing what it can tell us about the state of Afghanistan now and in the future. Meena Baktash is the BBC's Kabul bureau editor. Meena, start it off if you would by just telling us about the project and why you got it going.

Meena Baktash: First of all, [inaudible 00:43] so well, you know, looking at the map it feels so easy to drive along this road, but as every aspect of life in Afghanistan, the reality is completely different. In every corner of this road there are hundreds of sub corners hidden. Telling the story of the "Ring Road" will be telling this story of Afghanistan.

Schachter: Highway 1, or the Ring Road, as you say, existed before, I mean existed for decades, right? What the coalition forces agreed to do was rebuild this road, which was a real mess.

Baktash: Exactly, this road came to existence in August 1961 and different countries were actually competing with each other. Japanese were here, Saudis were here, Soviets were here and Americans were here. And then in 2003, Americans promised President Karzai that they will rebuild that piece of the road within a year and they did it. That was

Schachter: From Kandahar to Kabul.

Baktash: Yes, we call it KK, Kabul-Kandahar.

Schachter: That's interesting because when I was in Kabul, that was kind of referred to as the Death Road, Kabul to Kandahar was not a trip a Western journalist would make.

Baktash: To be honest, even today you can't make that trip. Our colleagues were not able to come from Kandahar to Ghazni. And we had to just cover that piece of road by talking to people who can make that trip, who are in local [inaudible 02:20] and with nothing to show that they have any connections with Kabul.

Schachter: Meena, tell us what the highway is like as a road. You've been to England, you've been to the West, you've seen what highways are there. We're calling this a highway, but it's not

Baktash: Yeah, it's a two lane highway with no other additional lanes. Hard shoulder is something not hear of it, and service stations, none existing. Yes, in some parts there are some sorts of restaurants on the side of the road, but there are still problems, although it was been built so many times. But the quality of work is not good, so at the end of every winter they have to go back and repair it again and again.

Schachter: Did you learn anything from the series that you didn't know from the reporters who travelled the road?

Baktash: First of all, we learned how difficult it is to travel around Afghanistan, but actually, traveling on this road, we went deeper into the life of the people and talked to them, I mean to families. You know, we heard about the past, about the present and about the hopes for the future. If it would have been peaceful, you could have gone through different cultures, different languages, different communities traveling on that road. You know, because almost 65-70% of Afghan population is living just within 50 kilometers of this main road. So it is a very sort of live road and if it would have been peaceful and properly rebuilt, it would have had an immense impact on the livelihood of the Afghan people and also for unleashing economy growth in this country.

Schachter: The BBC's Meena Baktash, she helped put together a special project from Kabul, called Life Along Highway 1. Meena, thank you so much.

Baktash: Thank you.