The Express Tribune: Pakistan PM to sign letter on trilateral rail project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics

$4.8b plan will help complete 573-km track connecting Peshawar to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif and to Uzbekistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan is all set to sign a letter, which is already signed by the presidents of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, seeking $4.8 billion loan from the World Bank for a railway line project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and the Central Asian Republics.

According to Pakistan Railways’ officials, the premier will sign the letter during the visit of the deputy prime minister of Uzbekistan in the next week, saying once the “Joint Appeal Letter” is signed, it will be sent to the president of World Bank for final approval.

The premier took the decision to sign the letter after Federal Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati and PM’s Adviser on Trade Abdul Razak Dawood called on him on Wednesday and discussed about boosting trade and economic relations among the three countries and the region through rail network.

They also envisaged about cargo train service, hoping that the railway connectivity would usher in a new era of development for Pakistan and the other countries.

Railways’ official statement noted that the $4.8 billion project will help complete 573-km long railway track, adding that the track will connect Peshawar to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif and all the way to Uzbekistan.

It said the presidents of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan had already approved the project and a formal request would be sent to the World Bank for loan after PM Imran signed the Joint Appeal Letter.

In addition, it said that other countries can also be included in the project in future, adding that the trilateral project could make Pakistan the economic and trade hub for the Central Asian Republics.

It is expected that the rail project would also help Islamabad build a new equation with the Central Asian Republics.

Special Assistant to the Railways Minister Ghulam Dastgir while talking to The Express Tribune said that the feasibility report of the project was ready.

He maintained that the World Bank had already given in-principle approval for the loan and a formal request would be sent after Pakistan signed the letter.

Dastgir said the railways infrastructure already existed in three countries and the only missing link was from Peshawar to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Once operational, he observed, it will boost transit trade between Pakistan and Central Asia, adding that Pakistan’s internal railways infrastructure was already connected with ports and that will – in a way – provide the landlocked countries access to hot waters.

The railways officials maintained that Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics had agreed to establish railway connectivity via Afghanistan with a view to boosting trade and economic relations.

The landlocked countries – ones that do not have territory connected to an ocean or whose coastlines lie on endorheic basins – have long been trying to connect to hot waters in Pakistan, which in return had a desire for access to Central Asian Countries markets and to re-direct their trade through Pakistani ports.

Reportedly, during Uzbek President Karimov’s visit to Islamabad in May 2006, both sides had agreed to expand trade and economic ties and it was also planned to extend road and rail links that would enable the Central Asian countries, particularly Uzbekistan, to make use of Pakistan’s seaports to develop commerce with other regions.

“The Express Tribune”