KABUL -- Expansion of the secure Green Zone in Kabul is coming, but ordinary residents of Kabul should expect benefits rather than hardships, says the head of the Capital Region Independent Development Authority (CRIDA).
Those benefits include construction of a beltway that will reduce traffic congestion, Eng. Elham Omar Hutaki, CRIDA director, told Salaam Times.
Workers are expanding the Green Zone to "bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and American military headquarters" within the protected zone, the New York Times reported in September.
An urgent task
"Diplomatic institutions, their staff and international forces based in Kabul are among the main targets of terrorist groups," Eng. Zakaria Zakaria, who represents Kabul Province in parliament, told Salaam Times. "The latest example was the explosion of a tanker truck near the German embassy [in May]."
That explosion took more than 150 lives.
"Expanding the Green Zone will ensure the security of most [embassies], their staff and residents of the area," he continued. "It's just a good measure."
However, "we are in favour of expanding the Green Zone only if it doesn't cause trouble for Kabul residents in their daily lives," said Zakaria. He did not want to see "the closure of roads that Kabul residents use", he said.
"If [that truck] had reached its intended target, more than 300 diplomats could have been killed," said Hutaki. "That's why our agency, President Ashraf Ghani's office and US engineers ... drew up a plan to expand the Green Zone."
Beltway is coming
Once the construction dust and noise settle, Kabul will have a new beltway, he said.
"A beltway larger than the current Wazir Akbar Khan road will be built," he said.
That future road "will drastically reduce" congestion in Wazir Akbar Khan, and Makrarian and on Mahmood Khan Bridge and the airport road", he said.
"According to a survey we conducted, about 14,000 vehicles pass over Wazir Akbar Khan road in 24 hours," he added. "Only 4,500 of them belong to residents of Wazir Akbar Khan or to companies based there ... A new beltway will divert thousands of those [outside] vehicles, drastically reducing traffic on Wazir Akbar Khan road."
Kabul residents like Ahmad Rashad, 27, hope to see improvements to their own security.
"Kabul's residents suffer the most and are killed in every terrorist attack targeting foreigners," he told Salaam Times. "Expanding [the Green Zone] is good for foreigners ... and for those of us who live in those areas."
"Our house will be inside the expanded Green Zone," he said. "We'll welcome this measure ... as long as we can still move freely."
Assurances from CRIDA
Hutaki the CRIDA director had assurances for worried Kabul residents who fear the impact of years of construction.
"No roads will be closed," he said.
Residents of deficient housing in the area stand to benefit, he said.
"Residents of Qala Musa, Bibi Mahru and Qala Khatar, 85% of whom live in substandard, unsafe housing, will receive luxury residential units ... in exchange for giving away a few square metres of land to the beltway project," he said.
Heshamat, a resident of Bibi Mahru, is ready to move to the apartment promised to him.
"A few square meters of our backyard fall within the proposed beltway boundaries," he told Salaam Times. "We're very pleased, though, that the government is going to build us an apartment in exchange for that land."
"We don't have the regular electricity, water and other amenities ... that the residents of Wazir Akbar Khan have, even though our houses are located near [Wazir Akbar Khan]," he continued. "Fortunately, once this beltway is built, we'll not only own our own apartment -- our area will become a master plan zone too. We'll benefit from the services that the Wazir Akbar Khan area already has."