Uzbekistan has started building a $5bn railway across Afghanistan to link up with Pakistan’s seaports in a project promoted by the three countries, Pakistani website News International reports.
The project is being driven by Uzbekistan, which wants to establish itself as the main transit hub between Central Asia and the ports of Pakistan.
The announcement follows a meeting in Uzbek capital Tashkent in February, in which officials agreed a roadmap for the 600km line connecting the Uzbek and Pakistan networks via Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul (see further reading).
“This trans-Afghan project is the most economical and shortest route connecting Central Asia with the Pakistani ports of Karachi, Gwadar and Qasim,” said Pakistani minister of state and chair of the country’s Board of Investment (BOI), Muhammad Azfar Ahsan.
“The route to Pakistan has received the most attention owing to its feasibility,” he added. “In this regard, the Termez-Kabul-Peshawar project could be a game changer for the region’s future.”
The source of funding for the scheme was not given, but the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have expressed interest in being involved.
In December, Makhkamov Ilkham, Uzbekistan’s transport minister, visited Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan to discuss the project. This was followed later in the month by intergovernmental negotiations between the three parties and a joint request to international financial institutions to discuss funding.
A recent paper from Uzbek’s Indian embassy said the rail link created “unique prospects” for developing and stabilising the Afghan economy and “forming interregional and intercontinental transit flows”.