Testimony: Aga Khan opens Bridge between Afghanistan and Tajikistan 2002

Dear all,

It's Sunday afternoon (Nov. 3, 2002) and I just came back from the opening ceremony of the new bridge from Tajikistan, in the village Tem, to Afghanistan. This bridge connects the two parts of Badakhshan which is divided by the Pyanj river.

I woke up at 5:00 am, put the water in the bucket to heat for a bath and went back to sleep. I awoke 30 minutes later to women drumming their drums. Thank God for them and their excitement, otherwise I would have slept through the ceremony.

We all gathered in a special place near the bridge at 6:30 am all bundled up in layers of clothing, gloves and jackets. We waited and listened to Badakhshani music on the loudspeaker until Hazar Imam, President Rahmanov (Tajikistan) and the vice president of Afghanistan (I forget his name), along with a huge delegation arrived at 10:30 am. While I couldn't see this (there were a lot of people in front of me and me being short didn't help), I heard that Hazar Imam, the president and vice-president entered the bridge on the Tajik side, cut a ribbon, walked across the bridge and cut a ribbon on the Afghan side.

There were thousands (estimates of the day before total about 10,000) of people on the Afghan side sitting on the ground (I have some pictures), a lot of women in colorful red and green dresses. We waved to them across the river after the ceremony and they waved back. A friend of mine told me that her friend who works with FOCUS Afghanistan was telling him that some Afghan girls were asking if the Pamiri girls would be wearing new clothes and were wondering what they should wear to the ceremony. While these girls have been living a different life from other girls around the world, they still think about the things that other girls around the world think about.

Then they came to a stage in front of where we were standing. The governor of Gorno-Badakshan (the region/province in which Khorog is located) welcomed everyone and introduced the president of Tajikistan. President Rahmanov welcomed everyone and talked about the new collaboration between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and thanked the government of Afghanistan and the AKDN for its support. Then Hazar Imam gave a speech about how this bridge symbolizes peace, hope, capacity and opportunity. He said he wanted to build the Silk Route again through this bridge. He expressed his hope that this bridge would be the beginning of many opportunities and an improvement in the quality of life of future generations. He ended by thanking all the men and women who worked hard on this bridge and prayed for peace in everyone's lives. The vice-president of Afghanistan then spoke about how he never thought these two countries, separated by the Pyanj river, would ever be connected. He thanked everyone on behalf of Hamid Karzai and the Afghan government for their support in making this possible. The president of Tajikistan then came back to the podium to tell us about the plans for the future, including 4 new bridges to be built from Tajikistan to Afghanistan, the possibility of an International passport in Ishkashim (a district in Gorno-Badakhshan), and Hazar Imam's pledge of 200 million USD for the soon to be established University of Central Asia in Khorog. He invited Hazar Imam to come back to Khorog next September to open the next bridge and joked that the AKDN has a lot of work to to in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

I watched Hazar Imam as he stood on stage. He looked at the audience and the crowds in the surrounding hills and had a big smile on his face. I'm sure it must have been difficult to have been here on offical business with his spiritual children so close to him and not have given deedar (or 'didor' as they say in the Pamiri language).

Hazar Imam and the delegation left the stage at around 11:45 am, went to the Serena Inn for snacks and a tour of a picture display of the construction of the bridge, the local government and then to Marco Polo, a restaurant, for lunch. He left Khorog to Dushanbe by plane at approximately 2:25 pm.

This was a great day - history in the making.