Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Afghanistan: From Land Lock to Land Link

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Afghanistan: From Land Lock to Land Link

The railway running 85 km from Atamyrat, Turkmenistan to the Ymamnazar border crossing point and 3 km towards Afghanistan’s border facilities at Akina was officially opened by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and President Ashraf Ghani in a ceremony on November 28, 2016.
Berdymukhamedov said: “the project is written in golden letters in the history of our brotherly nations.” He added that the terminal could hold up to 500 tons of commodities and could play a key role for oil traders. But if the link is completed, both Kyrgyzstan and China have expressed interest in connecting to the railway, which could have a powerful influence on a landlocked region that has little transport infrastructure. President Ashraf Ghani thanked Turkmenistan for its support in promoting stability in the country. He said Turkmenistan had given "the gift of trust in the future of Afghanistan". "In the past two years, the esteemed president of Turkmenistan decided to make investments of millions and billions of dollars in a stable Afghanistan,” He added, the opening of the railway is an important step in strengthening relations between the two nations, and in promoting regional economic co-operation in Asian countries.
Initial discussions for the railway project began in 2008, and a framework agreement was signed when Afghanistan’s former President Hamid Karzai had visited Ashgabat in May 2011. As located in heart of Asian Countries, Afghanistan has indigenous capabilities for railway construction, and Turkmenistan agreed to take on responsibility for surveying, designing and constructing the entire route, with the section within Afghanistan to be considered as a donation to the country.  Construction was launched by the presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan with an elaborate ceremony in Atamyrat on June 05, 2013. The project weighed down with concerns about security in Afghanistan that prompted key backer the Asian Development Bank to suspend support for it last year. Neither Tajikistan nor Afghanistan has yet built their sections in the route. Tajikistan has said it will not begin work on its own section while Afghanistan remains embroiled in some of the worst fighting the country has seen since the US-led international intervention in 2001. Should the link be completed, another Central Asian nation, Kyrgyzstan, and the region’s top trade partner China have both expressed interest in linking up to the railway in the future.
A great deal of potential has always existed in Afghanistan-Turkmenistan relations. Turkmenistan has the fourth largest gas reserves and has been actively on the lookout to build transportation routes to large markets and the route through Afghanistan has been the most feasible and economical. The rise of India as an economic giant and its increasing energy needs make Turkmenistan and Central Asia energy markets of choice for that country and also China. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) has been one of the most important regional initiatives to be undertaken by these regional countries. The agreement to build the pipeline to transport Turkmen gas to Afghanistan and Pakistan and thereafter to India was signed in 2010. In addition, Afghanistan depends on Turkmenistan for meeting a large part of the country's electricity needs. At present, Afghanistan imports more than 320 million kilowatt hours of electricity every year from Turkmenistan.
The Afghan government has envisaged Afghanistan to change from dependent land-lock country to a land-link and bridging state by opening new transit routes. Earlier in September, the first ever cargo from China arrived on Afghan soil through the Hairston port. The railway line between Iran and Herat was also inaugurated in September this year. The railway line will be established from Iran to Ghoryan district and will further go towards Zindjan district and Herat Airport. Afghanistan also finalized the deal with Iran and India on the Chabahar Port. Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are also participants in an ambitious $10 billion pipeline plan to send Turkmen gas to Pakistan and India.
The geographical uniqueness of Afghanistan is that it borders with six countries and also has river ports. Very few countries of the world have this kind of strategic opportunity. From this point of view, Afghanistan has tremendous potential to develop its economy. But economic development cannot be achieved without a sound transport infrastructure, in which regard Afghanistan was very deficient and dependent. The country needs to develop new road and rail infrastructures and also strengthen the existing one. The border countries have business interests not only with Afghanistan but also among themselves. If the border countries want to establish ground connectivity between them, they are obliged to operate through Afghanistan. So development of transport infrastructure in Afghanistan is not only important for its own economy, but also for the neighboring countries as well. The CAREC has been formed of countries including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to develop ground connectivity through six corridors for the entire region. The Project is a part of Transport Strategy and Action Plan agreed under the CAREC program. These transcontinental corridors are expected to transport 20-30 million tons of cargo in total each year.
In addition, Afghanistan has potential to develop its tourism sector but currently the internal situation does not favor in this regard. As much as the land link programs become operational, firstly internal and eventually external tourism will develop in the country. Tourism will not only boost the economy of the country, but will also help normalization of the internal situation.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the newly emerging writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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