China Ready To Assist In Afghanistan Belt And Road Railway Infrastructure

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Support will be provided by Beijing to two intersecting Trans Afghanistan railway lines from Uzbekistan and Iran to Pakistan. 

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Beijing is ready to support the implementation of Afghanistan transport projects, including a railway that would connect Uzbekistan’s Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul and Peshawar, in Pakistan, China’s special envoy to Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong has stated.

“The Chinese leadership is ready to support the implementation of trans-regional projects, including the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway line and a railroad connecting Western China with Central Asia,” Yue stated at the “Afghanistan: Security and Economic Development” conference in Tashkent this week.

Such megaprojects would contribute to a lasting peace on Afghan land and strengthen regional interconnectedness, Yue said, adding that “Beijing sees Afghanistan as a bridge linking Central and South Asia.”

Earlier at the conference, Uzbekistan’s Acting Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov said that his country, Afghanistan, and Pakistan had begun fieldwork on the project to build the Trans-Afghan railroad between Mazar-i-Sharif, Kabul and Peshawar.

On February 2, 2021, after talks in Tashkent, the three countries signed a joint plan to build the 573km railroad with an annual capacity to transit up to 20 million tonnes of cargo.

The project, at an estimated cost of US$5 billion, will open Pakistani seaports on the Arabian Gulf to Uzbekistan and continue Afghanistan’s gradual integration into the Central Asian economic system. We have previously discussed Uzbekistan’s desire to use Pakistan’s Gwadar and Karachi Ports as a gateway to the Arabian Sea in the article here.

In Uzbekistan, the Central Asian, landlocked country, the deal has been called the “event of the century” by Tanzila Narbaeva, the Chairman of the national Senate, noting it as “another example of Uzbekistan actively pursuing an open and pragmatic foreign policy.”

There are significant infrastructure and logistics difficulties ahead. The route traverses the Hindu-Kush range and reaches an altitude of 3,500 meters, making it one of the highest railroads in the world when completed. The route is a test of supply chain capabilities, while the ability to attract laborers and companies to work in Afghanistan will not be easy. Security will be tight, although there are encourging signs that Afghanistan, one year on from the chaotic US and NATO withdrawal, is settling down with Chinese and Russian military assistance.

The implementation of the Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway line will reduce the time and cost of transporting goods along the existing highway between Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, while power lines from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are also being extended to Kabul and across Afghanistan. A railway will reduce transit times by an estimated 30%. It also reduces the delivery time of goods from the Russian border (Ozinki) to Karachi to 16-18 days, and from Termez to Karachi, 8-10 days.

Ultimately it can be expected that this north-south Trans-Afghan railway will intersect with a proposed West-East line that would connect Iran to China via Afghanistan and Pakistan, also via Kabul and Peshawar. Discussions between extending direct rail from Pakistan through to Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang Province are still on-going, however the Trans-Afghan routes will take priority until final connection with China can be attempted.

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About Us

Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm assists British and Foreign Investment into Asia and has 28 offices throughout China, India, the ASEAN nations and Russia. For strategic and business intelligence concerning China’s Belt & Road Initiative please email silkroad@dezshira.com or visit us at www.dezshira.com

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