Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan railway project to connect Central Asia with Arabian Sea

New railway project to offer access to landlocked Central Asia to Pakistan’s seaports and improve regional trade

The government officials of Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan have signed a roadmap for the construction of a mega rail link project that would offer the landlocked Central Asian region access to Pakistan’s seaports and transform regional trade links.

The joint roadmap was signed at the first meeting of the high-level trilateral working group on the construction of the ‘Mazar-e-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar’ project held in Tashkent on February 2, 2021. The summit was attended by Pakistan’s Advisor to the PM on Commerce and Investment Razak Dawood, Uzbekistan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investments and Foreign Trade Sardor Umurzakov and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar.

The high-level summit in Tashkent took place after the December 2020 meeting of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Uzbekistan’s Minister for Transport Makhkamov Ilkham in Islamabad in which they discussed rail and road connectivity.

Railway project funding

The meeting in Tashkent was also attended by the heads of leading international financial institutions including the representatives of the World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Islamic Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank. The delegates welcomed the initiative and expressed their readiness to provide full support for the railway project recognizing its strategic importance in the context of promoting regional cooperation.

The heads of Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan earlier sent a joint appeal to international financial institutions with a proposal to support the project.

Key highlights:

The project was envisaged in December 2018 when the heads of the railway administrations of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan met in Tashkent to discuss a rail route to offer the countries of South and Central Asia access to markets in Asia and Europe.

  • The 573-km long trans-Afghan railway line project comprises will connect Peshawar city to Afghanistan’s cities of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif all the way to Uzbekistan.
  • The project will include both passenger and cargo high-speed trains.
  • The $4.5 billion initiative will be funded by international financial organizations.
  • Pakistan would operate the project from Peshawar to Torkham beyond which Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will run it.

Benefits of the project

The trilateral project will economically benefit the three countries, offering direct and affordable connectivity.

1. Access to Arabian Sea

The new Trans-Afghan railway will provide landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian states access to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea (seaports of Karachi, Gwadar and Port Qasim). “Pakistan’s seaports provide a great opportunity to the Central Asian States” to access the Arabian Sea, Pakistani premier earlier said, underlining the importance of the project for regional connectivity.

2. Stimulate regional economic growth

The heads of delegations of the three countries said the trilateral rail project could serve as a powerful platform in stimulating the growth of national economies as well as regional and interregional trade. The project would also help ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan by creating thousands of new jobs.

2. Regional trade and connectivity

The project will open a new trade corridor and boost economic cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, experts say. The rail route will contribute to a significant increase in tt cargo flow, reviving the historical role of the region as a bridge connecting Europe and Asia by the shortest land route, the Uzbek Ministry of Investments and Foreign Trade said.

It will help improve regional “trade and connectivity through Afghanistan to the Central Asia Republics,” Dawood said. The initiative will bolster transit trade between Pakistan and Central Asian region, making Pakistan the economic hub for the Central Asian Republics. The trilateral rail project opens up “a whole corridor to the Central Asian Republics”, Pakistan’s Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati said.

4. Reduce transit time and cost

The rail link will significantly reduce the time and cost of goods transportation offering Uzbekistan and Afghanistan direct access to international seaports, boosting economic cooperation among the three countries as well as countries of South and Central Asia. After the trans-Afghan railway project becomes operational, transportation of goods from Uzbekistan’s Termez city to Pakistan’s Karachi city will take about 8-10 days and around 16-18 days from the Russian border (Ozinki station) to Karachi, reducing the time and cost by 30 percent as compared to the North-South Transport Corridor, according to Uzbekistan officials.

Read more: Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul train to launch in 2021

Pakistan and Uzbekistan trade ties discussed

During his four-day February 2021 visit to the Central Asian state, Razak Dawood also held separate meetings with the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev and other officials to discuss economic cooperation. Pakistan and Uzbekistan officials discussed the preferential trade agreement (PTA), the possibility of establishment of joint cargo company to develop road and air freight linkages and reviving the joint business council to bolster bilateral trade. They also agreed to improve cooperation in the shipping, textile, engineering and IT sectors.

Sana Jamal
Storyteller. Avid Reader. Learner to the core.

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