Trans-Afghan Railway – Daily Times

As the connectivity of Southeast Asia and the Middle East with Central Asia and the Caucasus rests on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Trans-Afghan Railway, if completed, will serve as a lifeline for an integrated Eurasia.

Originally a brainchild of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to diversify his landlocked Central Asian country’s trade and supply routes, the Trans-Afghan Railway Line has since become a dream of all stakeholders in the region to boost connectivity.

“The Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway is our common future. When the construction of this route is completed, we will create the closest, cheapest and safest corridor connecting Pakistan with Central Asia,” Mirziyoyev said during his visit to Islamabad in 2020. Uzbekistan’s main aim behind the project was to to gain access to Karachi port in Pakistan. , Port Qasim and Gwadar Port for trade expansion in South East Asia, Middle East and North Africa. Pakistan and Afghanistan found it more amenable to their economic recovery plans.

Even Kazakhstan and Russia had huge interest when the project’s feasibility study was launched in July 2021. Russian Railways promised to develop a digital model of the project, in addition to agreeing to help set up a 1520 mm gauge railways to Pakistani territory. While working on the proposal, Uzbekistan had three options to reach the world. Bander Abbas and Chabahar ports in Iran were carefully considered. But international sanctions against Tehran have not encouraged Tashkent to take this path. Iran’s relations with the Arab world could also have been a disadvantage.

The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan Economic Corridor was already operational.

Similarly, Turkmenistan had much tougher import-export processing and higher transit tariff. So Pakistan and Afghanistan were found the viable option to realize the dream. Media reports at the time quoted Uzbek officials as describing Pakistan as a more stable partner than Iran and Turkmenistan. The trans-Afghan rail line also proved to be the shortest and most economical route for Uzbek freight. In fact, in 2011, Uzbekistan had already built a 75-kilometer railway between its border town of Termez and Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, although the railway line remained, for some reason, non-functional and cargo They. was diverted on the road.

The 2018 Uzbek plan calls for cargo to be transported from Termez to Afghanistan’s border town of Hairatan, from where it is to be moved to Pakistan’s Landikotal town after passing through Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul and Jalalabad. At Peshawar, the shipment will be unloaded and transported via Pakistan’s rail system to Karachi and Gwadar.

Afghanistan’s rugged terrain, harsh climate and security hazards pose challenges in implementing the project. But both the previous government in Kabul and the current Taliban dispensation have pledged their commitment to undertake the project.

The project’s route in northern Afghanistan also includes the three-and-a-half kilometer Salang Pass, which remains largely closed due to heavy snowfall and avalanches in the winter season. To avoid this, a second tunnel was proposed, parallel to the existing Salang Tunnel, albeit at a higher cost. In January this year, the Taliban cabinet approved a plan to marginalize the Salang Pass and route the railway through Baghlan and Bamyan provinces. This will make the 573-kilometer railway line slightly longer, but will ensure its topographical safety.

In addition to security issues, a big challenge in implementing the project is arranging funds. Uzbekistan is seeking financial support from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in addition to the US International Development Finance Corporation.

Lately, there are reports that in addition to most of these financial institutions, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the International Finance Corporation have also indicated their willingness to finance the $4.80 billion project over five years . With geopolitics in Central Asia disrupted by the war in Ukraine, supply routes in the region have been largely destabilized, making such infrastructure projects rather feasible. Located at the heart of major regions, the trans-Afghan rail line is also poised to provide links to major export markets from the European Union borders down into China.

In 2021, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment and Foreign Affairs said in a statement, “once the Trans-Afghan Railway project is completed, Pakistan’s trade with Central Asia will increase to six billion dollars. It also projected a large increase in India’s trade with the region.”

The China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Afghanistan Economic Corridor has already been made operational: only with the will as the infrastructure for the project has not yet been developed. The first Chinese cargo convoy left Kashghar in southwest China via Osh in Kyrgyzstan and Termez in Uzbekistan on September 13 this year and arrived in the border town of Hairatan in Afghanistan on September 23. This 523 kilometer supply route is estimated to reduce China’s distance to Europe by 900 kilometers with a shipping time of seven to nine days.

Once connected to the prevailing and potential supply routes of the region, the Afghan rail corridor will bring sustainable economic prosperity and cultural diversity, making the region a meeting point of Eastern and Western civilizations. If the nations of the region choose to shift the paradigm of their national policies from geopolitics to geoeconomics, they will use such linkages as highways of prosperity and development for their people.

The writer is a freelance freelance journalist based in Islamabad covering South/Central Asia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *