Criticism mounts over fare hikes amidst extended closure of Salang Pass

Salang Pass. Oct. 25, 2023.

The extended closure of the Salang Highway has drawn sharp criticism from residents of Kabul and other provinces, who decry the rise in transportation fares and increased travel time as they are forced to use an alternative route.

Approximately two months ago, the Taliban announced a temporary closure of the Salang Pass, a vital segment of the main highway linking Kabul to the northern provinces. The closure aimed at reconstruction efforts to repair tunnels and roads that have endured multiple refurbishments but suffered damage due to heavy traffic and subpar construction.

Taliban in a statement on Wednesday, Oct. 25, said that work on the reconstruction of the highway “has been completed by 80 percent.”

During this closure, drivers have been directed to utilize the Shiber-Khawak route, a rugged terrain and a longer journey compared to the Salang Pass. This redirection has resulted in doubled fares for buses and other vehicles traveling between Kabul and destinations like Balkh, Baghlan, and other northern provinces. The fare for one person in a five-seat vehicle, which previously stood at 700 Afghanis ($10), has surged to 1,400 Afghanis ($20), rendering it unaffordable for many.

Nazir, a student at a Kabul university who hails from Balkh, expressed his predicament, stating that he has been unable to return home due to the escalated transportation costs. “I am not financially well-off. Every week when I visit my family, the transportation fees are exorbitant, and I lack the means to cover them,” he lamented. Nazir added that the extended route has led to a doubling of passenger transportation fares due to its extended length.

The closure of the highway has also triggered a significant increase in the prices of goods imported from the northern provinces. Farzad, who sells animal skins and fur clothes, reported a threefold increase in prices compared to before. He observed, “When goods become expensive and their prices surge in the markets, people refrain from making purchases.”

The Salang Pass is a crucial transit route for goods, serving as the primary conduit for imports and exports between Afghanistan and Central Asian nations and various provinces, including the capital, Kabul.

Drivers complained that traveling via the Shiber-Khawak highway is costlier due to the route’s length, leading to surging transportation fares. Azizullah, a driver, noted that the extended closure of the Salang highway has presented formidable challenges, as their vehicles have experienced maintenance issues.

Khair Mohammad Khairkhwah, another driver, lamented that the prices of oil have risen in tandem with the prolonged highway closure, significantly impacting their income.

The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment confirmed that the situation has resulted in increased expenses for the transportation of goods.

Under Taliban control, the Ministry of Public Works announced in August its intent to initiate reconstruction efforts on an 80-kilometer stretch of the highway, encompassing tunnels and damaged sections.