A flagship multimillion-dollar highway linking Afghanistan's main cities is of no use to most of the population and at risk of crumbling during the winter, a report to British ministers has warned.
The 2700km Highway 1, largely bankrolled by American and Saudi millions, was seen as a symbol of Afghanistan's emergence as a modern democratic nation. But senior figures within the British Foreign Office have questioned the priority given to the project - and the standard of the road.
A confidential paper under discussion in the department claims the road is not completely "metalled" and has a layer of tarmac too thin to last an Afghan winter, leaving long stretches in danger of disintegration.
The document also complained that the highway was "of no value at all" to the vast majority of Afghans, who need better local roads to help them travel closer to home. It says: "This major road system, started in 2002, is still not fully metalled due to a combination of siphoning away of funds, and contracts being outsourced through layers of companies. Once everyone has taken their cut, the layer of tarmac put down is too thin to last an Afghan winter.
For the 91 per cent of Afghans who venture no further than their neighbouring town, it is of no value at all."
The US spending watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, has claimed that Washington cannot account for billions of dollars spent on aid projects in the country.
The shortcomings of Highway 1 emerged as more than 70 nations yesterday pledged US$16 billion ($20 billion) to the country over the next five years. Afghanistan has received nearly US$60 billion in aid since 2002.
The donors are also expected to set up review and monitoring measures to assure the aid is used for development.
Foreign aid has led to better education and healthcare, with child mortality halved and basic health services extended to nearly 60 per cent of the Afghanistan population, from less than 10 per cent in 2001.
* Six Afghan national police buildings so poorly constructed they were unusable.
* The US$300 million Kabul Power Plant, fit now only as a back-up facility.
* A project to upgrade the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River which is years behind schedule.
- Independent, APBy Jonathan Owen, Brian Brady