Ten years ago there were just three border crossing points between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Today there are six bridges, and there are plans to construct a seventh.
These critical connections have been established through a partnership between Afghanistan, the European Union and UNDP. From its headquarters in Tajikistan, the Border Management Northern Afghanistan (BOMNAF) project has been working for nearly a decade to build the physical and social infrastructure, for a strong and peaceful Afghanistan.
The project's main goal is to improve cross-border cooperation, to reduce crime and increase legal trade and travel along Afghanistan's border with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These efforts will contribute to mutual trust, regional development, conflict prevention and resolution. The long-term goal is to strengthen human security as well as to indirectly enhance and expand economic development on both sides of the border.
"Without appropriate infrastructure in place for the Afghan Border Police and Afghan Customs Officers to fulfil their duties, cross-border bridges that are built on the northern border of Afghanistan cannot be functional and therefore can't serve their purpose, to assist positive development in local and regional communities." - William Lawrence, EU BOMNAF project manager
BOMNAF builds infrastructure and facilities and provides equipment and training to the Afghan Border Police and Customs Department working at border-crossing points and outposts in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. The security situation here has been deteriorating in recent years.
BOMNAF team members conduct frequent field trips to the Afghan border to engage directly with Afghan Border Police, often working in remote mountainous areas. The trip can take more than three days, because of the poor condition of the roads that are clinging to the mountain sides.
But the members of the BOMNAF team believe it is worth the time and effort. The field visits provide an opportunity to build relationships with border officers and learn about their working environment and challenges, essential for the project's success.
This is a US$10 million project, and it plays a major role in improving the capacity of the Afghan Border Police and Customs Department to manage the border posts, increase security, foster regional cooperation and open cross-border markets along the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.
An important part of the project's work is to enhance the Afghan Border Police officers' skills in several crucial areas such as: border management, first aid, disaster management, search and rescue, survival swimming, land navigation and map reading, training, all-terrain vehicle maintenance and operation, information and communications technology, etc.
Training sessions have also been organized in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. On these occasions, Afghan officers are invited, along with experts and trainers from different fields, to spend an intense week attending seminars and workshops. Not only do officers and commanders gain useful knowledge, they also get a chance to meet and share experiences with colleagues from other provinces.
Another way that the project supports the Afghan Border Police and Customs Department is by providing them with equipment. Besides the furniture and fittings for their offices and barracks, the border guards receive very specialized technical equipment. Endoscopes to search for hidden contraband in cars, computers, printers and passport readers are all provided along with training in their proper use and maintenance.
By providing the border crossing posts and border outposts with Polaris 4x4 Quad Bikes, the project also ensures that officers can move around in the rough mountainous terrain. Other critical equipment includes: drug testing kits, digital cameras, field telephones, navigation equipment, binoculars, helmets, computer laptops and solar ovens.
In order to improve the working and living conditions of the Afghan Border Police and other agencies' officers stationed on the northern borders of Afghanistan, BOMNAF works to improve infrastructure by building new facilities, upgrading and renovating existing buildings.
Taking into account lessons learned from previous projects, BOMNAF builds modern, low maintenance infrastructure, with ecologically-appropriate design and environmentally sound materials. No more diesel generators. No more central heating or boiler rooms, no more electric air conditioning.
Trees are planted to provide natural shade and cooler areas for summertime meetings. Heating is provided by multi-fuel stoves with the option of local fuel from specifically planted trees.
It is important that the Afghans can rely on these simple solutions, and alternative energy sources such as solar panels. The geographic isolation of the border posts, as well as the harsh weather and occasional landslides, can block the roads for days, making it difficult for supplies and technicians to reach them
Regional cooperation is the overarching theme. BOMNAF seeks to strengthen cooperation between Afghanistan and Central Asian countries by enhancing communication and coordination. An important way to achieve this is by bringing the Afghan Border Police closer to their colleagues in Central Asia so they can share best practices and learn from each other's experiences.
Each year the project organizes meetings and conferences between agencies from Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to foster regional partnerships and promote joint activities and information sharing. By working together and coordinating their actions, the border officers are building a bridge toward a more stable and prosperous future for the entire region.
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