US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The article reveals interesting details about the construction of a railway from Termez in Uzbekistan through Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul in Afghanistan to the Pakistani city of Peshawar. There it will merge into the transport system of Pakistan, providing access to the ports of this country. Russia has its own interest in the project.
For the first time in centuries, there is a chance to link Central and South Asia with modern transport and energy corridors through Afghanistan. Completion of these projects will transform Eurasian security, significantly increase regional economic activity, and potentially bring finally peace to Afghanistan. Perhaps they will even allow to revive the Great Silk Road.
That is why progress in the planned projects should be of interest to both the influential neighbors of the region – Russia, China and India, and the United States, which has spent at least $ 2 trillion on Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Nevertheless, almost the entire world considers Central Asia to be a kind of “terra incognita” and so far pays little attention to the latest significant events in the region.
For example, in February, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov visited three Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan – to secure their support for transport projects involving Afghanistan and South Asian countries. Kamilov traveled on behalf of the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who, in his message to the country’s parliament on December 29, highlighted cooperation with the countries of South Asia and the promotion of peace in Afghanistan as his main regional priorities.
Specifically, negotiations were conducted on the construction of the Kabul Corridor railway from Termez in Uzbekistan to the Pakistani city of Peshawar via Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul in Afghanistan. This railway can carry up to 20 million tons of cargo per year, while the section from Termez to Mazar-i-Sharif, built by Uzbekistan, is already functioning. The remaining section to Peshawar, 573 kilometers long, will have to cross the Hindu Kush mountain range, where the height of the mountain passes exceeds 3.5 thousand meters above sea level. Thus, this railway will become one of the highest in the world.
The section of the railway from Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul (preliminary cost estimate – $ 5 billion) will be built mainly with borrowed funds. In late December, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan jointly approached international financial institutions to support this project. If funding is received, construction could begin as early as September this year. Thanks to the existing highways between Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, it will be possible to deliver equipment and building materials. In addition, the Uzbek and Tajik power lines leading to the Afghan capital are located on the same route, which will electrify the future railroad.
In Peshawar, the railway will connect arriving trains with Pakistan’s transport system, thereby linking Central Asian and Eurasian rail networks with those of South Asia and providing access to Pakistani ports of Karachi, Qasim and Gwadar. According to experts, the new railway will reduce the time it takes to transport goods from Central Asia from 30 days to 15 and will reduce transport costs by 30-35%.
The obvious reason for choosing Pakistani ports – rather than alternatives – is that the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar route is the shortest. However, there is also a more important reason: the Kabul Corridor, along with the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan transport corridor, will link four economically powerful Eurasian regions (Europe, China, Russia and South Asia) through Central Asia.
Today, the main transport route from Central Asia to the southern seas – through the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas – is no longer considered the most attractive. Economists estimate that transporting a container from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to Karachi will cost about $ 1400-1600, that is, about half the price of transporting a container from Tashkent to Bandar Abbas ($ 2600-3000). In addition, international economic sanctions against Iran will complicate the implementation of any project in this country.
At the end of 2020, construction began on the Afghan section of another megaproject linking Central and South Asia. This is the TAPI gas pipeline, named after the four countries through which it passes – Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The 1,814 km gas pipeline will run from the Galkynysh gas field in Turkmenistan to the Indian city of Fazilka through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan and through the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Multan. Its capacity will be 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and the cost is estimated at $ 8-10 billion.
While safety concerns have long questioned the viability of the TAPI gas pipeline project, completion is now scheduled for December 2023. It is imperative that a high-ranking Taliban delegation visited Turkmenistan on February 6 and promised to support the project. There is evidence that the United States, which has long advocated the construction of this gas pipeline, may have helped organize this trip.
Central Asia has always been a politically sensitive region, part of the so-called “great chessboard,” as former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put it. And therefore, when implementing such large projects, one should always take into account the geopolitical position of the largest regional players, such as the United States, Russia and China. But, at least for today, each of them seems to have an interest in ensuring that the states of Central Asia and Afghanistan are economically dynamic and politically stable, rather than poor countries that are the source of conflicts.
For all the importance of these new epoch-making projects, it is necessary to continue deepening and developing Central Asian cooperation. Historically, this region has achieved its greatest prosperity, acting as a “crossroads of civilizations”, guiding and transforming Eurasian trade, as well as economic and cultural forces. Moreover, Central Asia has been a world leader in economic development, trade, technology, industry and intellectual life during what is considered its golden age, when the region was open, dynamic, ready and able to learn and learn from others.
There is no reason why Central Asia could not succeed again. Through open regionalism, Central Asians have found many reasons for cooperation over the centuries. A return to a similar role for the region would be good news for the world and deserves the attention of its leaders.
Djoomart Otorbaev – Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan in 2014-15.
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