Gundogar: Conference for the railroad through Afghanistan

There is a question – Why was a conference on Afghanistan actually held in Tashkent?

The railway project through Afghanistan is comparable in importance to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The international conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Tashkent on July 26, was mainly devoted to the implementation of the Trans-Afghan Railway project . In general, there is nothing unexpected in this, especially for those who are closely following the initiatives of Uzbekistan in Afghanistan after the seizure of power there by the radical Taliban*. The railway project through Afghanistan is comparable in importance to the Trans-Siberian Railway. The economic effect of the Trans-Afghan route, in case of its successful construction, will be immediately felt both in Central Asia and in South Asia. In addition, Uzbekistan will have access to major ports in South Asia.

Third international

The conference on Afghanistan, held in the building of the international business center Tashkent City on July 26, became the third conference of its kind, held at the initiative of the Uzbek side. In March 2018, a forum called “Peace process, security cooperation and regional cooperation” was held in the Uzbek capital , in July 2021, literally a month before the seizure of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban, a high-level event was held called “Central and South Asia: regional interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities”. Both the first international meeting and the second were devoted to the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan, the cessation of hostilities there, which have been going on since 1979 with varying intensity.

The current conference, as noted by the head of the Taliban delegation, foreign minister in the government formed by the radical movement, Amir Khan Muttaki , is the first international event on Afghanistan in many years, which is not devoted to security issues in this country , but to its economic development. That is, Muttaki made it clear why the Taliban came to Tashkent.

With a frankly bored face, Muttaki listened from diplomats from different countries and representatives of international organizations to a set of prerequisites for recognizing the Taliban government: the creation of a coalition government, including representatives of various ethnic groups and political movements, respect for women’s rights (this topic was ignored only by one of the speakers – the special representative of the president Russia on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov ).

At a completely unexpected 10-minute press briefing by Muttaki, which took place after the end of the speeches of the delegates and which became known at the last moment (it was not on the conference schedule), the Taliban foreign minister reiterated the importance of Uzbekistan’s infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, which, according to him, they will contribute to the establishment of a peaceful life on Afghan territory, as well as the involvement of Afghans in projects of a regional and international scale.

More technical details

After the plenary session, at which special representatives of more than 20 countries and international organizations spoke, a presentation of projects took place under the general title “Humanitarian development is the path to the peaceful future of Afghanistan” : this is “The activity of a multifunctional transport and logistics hub in Termez”, through which international humanitarian cargo is delivered to Afghanistan, and the “Activity of the Educational Center for the Training of Afghan Citizens” – in the same Termez.

The presentation was entrusted to the First Deputy Minister of Higher and Secondary Specialized Education of Uzbekistan Komiljon Karimov. There were very few journalists and delegates in the hall where this presentation was held. Because both journalists and delegates understood that the presentation in the next room was much more important.

A presentation of the project of the same Trans-Afghan railway took place in the adjacent hall of the International Business Center. It was originally planned that it would be held by the First Deputy Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade of Uzbekistan Laziz Kudratov . This was also indicated in the conference schedule. Apparently, already during the event or immediately before its start, the Uzbek government guessed that the presentation of the project, because of which the entire international meeting was held in Tashkent, should be conducted by persons more appropriate to the project. Therefore, instead of Kudratov, Deputy Minister of Transport of Uzbekistan Jasurbek Choriyev and the head of the state company Uzbekistan Temir Yollari (Uzbekistan Railways) spoke about plans to build the Trans-Afghan RailwayKhusnutdin Khasilov.

Choriyev, in particular, for the first time announced the timeframe in which it is planned to build a railway through Afghanistan towards Pakistan – five years. During this time, it is planned to build a railway track with a length of 760 km. A power line will be laid along it, 136 bridges and other necessary structures will be built along the route. It is necessary to break through and electrify three tunnels, rebuild 33 railway stations. In total, when creating the Trans-Afghan railway, as Choriyev said, it will be necessary to create 1212 objects of various infrastructure.

The implementation of the project will significantly reduce the delivery time of goods to Central Asia, the CIS and Europe. It is expected that the transportation of goods from Pakistan to Uzbekistan will take not 35 days, but three to five, the cost of delivery of goods can be reduced by almost three times. At the same time, according to forecasts, the volume of cargo transportation along this route can reach 10 million tons.

In early August of this year, it is planned to start orthophotography along the route of the Trans-Afghan railway. According to the head of the Afghan Railway Administration Bakht-Rahman Sharafat , who spoke after Choriyev and Khasilov, this filming should last 15 days. A team of Uzbek, Pakistani and Afghan specialists has already been recruited to conduct research. The safety of the work of specialists will be ensured (this was emphasized by Sharafat) by units of the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence service of the Taliban.

Sharafat was followed by a representative of the Ministry of Transport of Pakistan, a third country, besides Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, which is involved in the Trans-Afghan Railway project and actively participates in its implementation. Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan will feel the economic benefits faster than other countries in the case of building a railway line through Afghan territory.

And here it is necessary to note a very important point: although Pakistan and Uzbekistan had long hatched plans to link their railway networks through Afghanistan, the seizure of power in Afghanistan by the Taliban made this plan much more realistic than in those years when power in Kabul was in the hands of the pro-American government.

Thus, at the conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan very clearly outlined its priorities in Afghanistan. And the Taliban, in turn, made it clear that they are very interested in these priorities. However, in addition to the desire to build a railway and ensure the safety of the builders, money is needed. The Trans-Afghan Railway project requires about $5 billion. Uzbekistan and Pakistan (the Taliban are not taken into account here) are unable to fully cover these costs. Therefore, as I was told on the sidelines of the conference by the special representative of the President of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan , Ismatulla Irgashev , now the Uzbek side is actively looking for investors. Russia and Kazakhstan have already shown interest in the project. Tashkent hopes very much that China will also allocate financial assistance for the Trans-Afghan highway.

* The Taliban movement is recognized as a terrorist movement in the Russian Federation and many other countries and is prohibited (we indicate as required by Russian law).

Source: Fergana,
01 August, 2022