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06TASHKENT262 2006-02-01 13:06:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tashkent
Cable title:  

LITTLE FRIENDSHIP ON BRIDGE BETWEEN UZBEKISTAN AND

Tags:   PREL ECON AF UZ 
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1. (C) Summary: The GOU and UN claim that the Friendship
Bridge border crossing between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is
very active. Recent visits to the bridge show that the
border crossing there is in significantly better condition
than other border posts in Uzbekistan. However, Emboffs
have observed little traffic crossing the border, calling
into question GOU claims that it is actively contributing to
stabilization efforts in Afghanistan. Infrastructure
upgrades have made Friendship Bridge one of the most modern
border crossings in the region. Given how little this
crossing is actually used, Post believes we should consider
directing future border assistance to other locations. End
summary.



2. (U) Poloff, DATT, and Air Attache visited the Friendship
Bridge border crossing between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan on
January 19. The bridge links the Uzbek city of Termez with
Hairaton in Afghanistan, and was built by the Soviet Army to
supply its troops during the war in Afghanistan. It is the
only vehicle-crossing on the Uzbek-Afghan border, although
there is a nearby port for barges that can be used to move
equipment too large for the bridge.



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Little Activity


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3. (C) GOU and UN officials have told Emboffs that the
bridge remains an active border crossing. First Deputy
Foreign Minister Nematov claimed to visiting CENTCOM J5 that
90 percent of the humanitarian aid entering Afghanistan by
land goes over the Friendship Bridge. Border guard and
customs officials at the bridge told emboffs that at least
one train crosses the bridge every day and that there are
times when a large number of trucks are lined up on the road
waiting for permission to cross. (Comment: This may have
been the case when traffic from the U.S. airbase at Karshi-
Kanabad was utilizing the land route into Afghanistan to
supply troops and send humanitarian aid. In fact, the line
of trucks at the border, likely resulted from Uzbek customs
delays. End comment.) However, different customs officials
independently told poloff that on average only five trucks
and approximately 25 other vehicles cross the bridge a day.
Most of the current traffic, to include rail shipments,
consists of commercial cargo transiting through Uzbekistan
from Turkey, Russia and other CIS countries.



4. (C) On January 19, Emboffs observed very little traffic
at Friendship Bridge. Two trucks were sitting in a holding
area at the point of entry awaiting clearance to continue
into Uzbekistan, and a third was waiting for permission to
enter Afghanistan. The only vehicular traffic observed was
an Afghan diplomat crossing into Uzbekistan, although
several people arrived on foot during Emboffs' visit.
(Note: Afghan diplomats have told emboffs on several
occasions, that even they must notify the MFA in advance to
get permission to cross the Friendship Bridge. End note.)
An empty train, which according to border guards had carried
humanitarian supplies to Hairaton, was seen returning to
Termez. (Comment: Border Guard officials said that the
bridge is open to non-diplomatic traffic only between 0900
and 1800 hours. Emboffs visited the bridge at 0920 hours,
which might account for the lack of activity at the border
post. However, other USG officials, including a DTRA team
that visited Termez the week of January 23, also noted a
similar lack of activity.)



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Border Crossing A Cut Above


--------------------------





5. (SBU) United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime
(UNODC) has been working to improve the Friendship Bridge
border crossing since the Bridge was "reopened" in 2001.
(Note: The majority of the funding for the UNODC project was
provided by INL, although other donors, such as the United
Kingdom, have also contributed. End note.) Border Guard
and Customs personnel provided emboffs a tour of the
checkpoint, which included a walkthrough of UNODC-provided
facility upgrades. All of the equipment, including the

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video surveillance system, appeared to be operational, and
personnel at the checkpoint appeared to be well trained,
alert, and competent. However, since no non-diplomatic
vehicles crossed the bridge during the visit, Emboffs did
not observe the equipment being used.



--------------------------


Comment: With Friends Like These


--------------------------





6. (C) The Uzbeks have talked a good game about engaging
with Afghanistan and contributing to stabilization efforts
there. The apparent lack of traffic over the Friendship
Bridge calls this commitment into question, and
import/export statistics for the first half of 2005 (reftel)
suggest that what little interaction occurs is in one
direction only. According to the GOU the Bridge is open for
business. It seems, however, that the Uzbeks definition of
"open" differs from ours. Clearly, the government continues
to closely monitor and restrict all traffic that comes
through and the word on the street seems be that without
connections you will not be allowed to cross.
Infrastructure upgrades already completed likely make this
one of the most modern border crossings in the region.
Given how little this crossing is actually used, Post
believes we should consider directing further border
assistance elsewhere.

PURNELL