Reconstruction of infamous Salang Pass gets underway

Known as one of the most dangerous and highest mountain highways in the world, the infamous Salang Pass in northern Afghanistan is set to get a much-needed facelift.

After years of neglect, the highway, which includes the 2.6-kilometer-long Salang Tunnel, is located at an altitude of around 3,400 meters above sea level and vast stretches of the road are unpaved.

Built in the early 1960s by the Soviet Union, the pass crosses the towering Hindu Kush mountains and is often closed for days at a time because of accidents, snow, ice and avalanches. The rugged beauty of the surrounding landscape belies the dangers involved in using this road – a road that claims an estimated 40 lives a year.

The north-south artery carries thousands of cars, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles daily but today vast stretches of the pass lie in total unpaved disrepair.

While some parts of the pass have been repaired over the past 10 years, conditions remain poor as low quality materials were used and a lack of overall maintenance ensued.

On Wednesday however, the Taliban announced that reconstruction work on an 80 km stretch of the road was officially underway and that the project should be completed within two years.

The Taliban’s deputy chief minister for economic affairs, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, said at an event marking the occasion that once reconstruction work has been finished, the highway will allow for a smooth journey from the north to the south of the country for all road users.

Salang Pass not only connects Kabul to eight over provinces in the north, but also to Afghanistan’s northern neighbors.

Private contractors have been brought in to repair the pass and it is hoped that job opportunities will be provided for thousands of locals.

In addition to the high annual death toll on the pass, a number of serious accidents have happened over the years. In 2010, more than 150 people were killed in avalanches, while just last year, at least 19 people died when an oil tanker overturned and caught fire in the Salang Tunnel.

But what is considered to perhaps be the deadliest known road accident happened in 1982 in the Salang Tunnel. It is believed that a fire killed as many as 2,700 people – including civilians and Soviet soldiers. Reports described fuel and ordnance explosions following a collision in the tunnel that led to the catastrophe. While the Soviets failed to confirm the tragedy at the time, Western reports stated the fire resulted in the death of as many as 700 Soviet soldiers and 400 to 2,000 civilians.