After Temporary Suspension, What’s Next for the Trans-Afghan Railway?

A short lived suspension of the transit of freight wagons from the Galaba railway station within the metropolis of Termez, Uzbekistan to the Hairatan railway station in Afghanistan simply throughout the river was lifted on February 10. Just a few days later a brand new settlement was signed between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Uzbekistan’s nationwide rail operator, Oz’bekistan Temir Yo’llari (UTY) first suspended transit on February 1, reportedly as a result of the Afghanistan Railways Authority (ARA) didn’t carry out deliberate upkeep on the rail line. This suspension adopted a collection of disagreements between the 2 nationwide rail operators over who governs the Afghan part of the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif rail line.

The Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railway line is a part of the Trans-Afghan railway venture. As I famous again in July 2022, the Trans-Afghan railway venture, first proposed in December 2018 by Uzbekistan, goals to increase the Afghan rail community from Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif to Kabul after which to Nangarhar province, the place the railway would cross the Torkham border and run into Pakistan by way of Peshawar. It is deliberate to be 573 km lengthy. Once in Pakistan, items will probably be offloaded to attach with the Pakistan rail system and from there’ll ultimately journey all the way down to the Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Gwadar, and Qasim. The Trans-Afghan railway line plans to additionally hyperlink with the railway community of Iran to ultimately attain the port metropolis of Bandar Abbas, however that effort is seemingly a much less desired choice attributable to sanctions and commerce restrictions on Iran.  

The rail route can also be linked to the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway venture,  a system that goals to attach Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang area to the town of Andijan in Uzbekistan by way of Kyrgyzstan. Once in Andijan, the railway will connect with the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railway community.

The Afghan department of the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railway line has at all times been managed by Uzbekistan. From the Uzbek facet, UTY established a subsidiary, Sogdiana Trans, again in 2011 to handle the 75-kilometer rail hyperlink.

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Under the new settlement signed on February 12 between the Afghanistan Railway Authority and Sogdiana Trans, there are three key features price noting. The first is that Uzbekistan will proceed to function and work on the Trans-Afghan railway line for an additional two years – till 2025. Second, the events additionally agreed to revive site visitors on the Friendship Bridge between Termez and Hairatan and velocity up the supply of products that had been held up in Uzbekistan to the Mazar-i-Sharif railway station. Third, the settlement additionally included the coaching of Afghan railway specialists. 

Key Issues Remain Unresolved

While UTY has resumed cargo transport alongside the rail line to Mazar-i-Sharif, some key points stay unresolved. One challenge price honing in on is who will management and handle the total size of the Trans-Afghan railway as soon as the extension from Mazar-i-Sharif to the seaports of Pakistan and Iran is accomplished. How it will be run is arguably as vital or extra so than its development.

Disagreements over the administration of the railway in Afghanistan first appeared in April 2022 in Ariana news, an Afghan news outlet, which quoted the ARA as saying that “the contracts for the use of the country’s railway stations with neighboring countries were made without taking into account the interests of Afghanistan.” It additional reported that the ARA had expressed the concept of renegotiating the contract with Sogdiana Trans and handing over operations of the railway line to native Afghan personal operators.

Bakht-u-Rahmon Sharafat, the chairman of the ARA, stated that Sogdiana Trans “receives $18 million dollars a year under the contract for the management of the Hayraton-Mazar-i-Sharif railway line. However, local companies are willing to do the same for 25 percent of this price.”

Complexity across the operational administration of the railway had been snowballing. Just a few months later in December 2022, Afghan news channel TOLO News reported {that a} Kazakh firm, Mansoor Fateh, was now managing the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railway line as a substitute of UTY. This was allegedly executed upon the invitation of the ARA.

However, UTY issued an announcement denying the handover of administration to Mansoor Fateh and as a substitute introduced that negotiations between the ARA and Sogdiana Trans had been nonetheless underway. UTY additionally famous the intention of the Afghan facet to increase the contract with Sogdiana Trans. This collection of disagreements was interpreted amongst Uzbek news shops as a cooling of relations between the Uzbek authorities and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. 

A Presidential Push and a Mixed Prognosis 

In the identical month, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirzoyeyev accepted additional plans for the implementation of main regional railway tasks, and he talked about the Trans-Afghan railway line as a key venture. He introduced that in 2023, the Uzbek authorities plans to determine an workplace for this railway line, appeal to a global consulting firm, and maintain negotiations with potential traders. In addition, Mirzoyeyev famous that the outcomes of the feasibility examine that was carried out in the summertime of 2022 from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan to the town of Torkham in Pakistan will even be revealed.

This current spat over the governance of the Afghan department of the Hairatan-Mazar-i-Sharif railway line affords a telling microcosm of the longer term difficulties that the Trans-Afghan railway venture might face. So far it has been fraught with issues, administration being the primary one. Despite this, Uzbekistan stays   in growing the rail route.

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Ultimately, it actually doesn’t matter who owns the railway; what issues is how it’s structured and managed. For Uzbekistan and Afghanistan to study from this, it’s important for these nations to do not forget that a railway is a system and must be managed as such. Thus two issues have to be thought-about. First, either side must develop a unified hall administration mechanism(s) to extend coordination between the railway authorities and different stakeholders alongside the hall. History is replete with examples of railway programs affected by each day interruptions, disturbances, and bureaucratic spats over how they want their practice programs to be managed and by whom. 

And if historical past serves as a preview, transparency is vital however troublesome to take care of for strategic tasks of this dimension and on this a part of the world. So removed from what we are able to see, the dearth of transparency has elevated political tensions between Uzbekistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Public funding on this scale ought to interact all stakeholders to be able to assess danger and financial viability and make sure the nation is getting a very good return on its funding. On the matter of bang for buck, it’s nonetheless not clear who will foot the invoice for the whole venture.

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