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The Killid Group

Rail link to Central Asia brings hope

Written by Muhammad Shafiq Hewadpal
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 15:19

Rail link to Central Asia brings hope

The railroad project from Hairatan port on the Afghan Uzbek border in the northern province of Balkh to the provincial centre of Mazar-e-Sharif has been almost completed linking Afghanistan to Central Asia.

An Uzbek company, which has undertaken the project, is expected to complete the rail link by the end of the year, providing Afghanistan with a railroad for the first time in 100 years. The Finance Minister, Dr. Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal, said the Asian Development Bank(ADB) is the major contributor to the cost of the project which links Afghanistan to Termez in Uzbekistan.

ADB contributes $165 or 97% of the amount with the Afghan government covering the remaining 3% or $5 million.

The ADB president, Haruhiko Kuroda, said the completion of the project would mark the beginning of the process of making Afghanistan into a regional trade hub. "If railroads are built throughout the entire country, Afghanistan will turn into a trade and investment hub in the region", he said.

Zakhilwal said the project was the first step toward building railways in Afghanistan. "We're hopeful that in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank, 3 to 5 other railway mega projects will be implemented that will link Herat with Mazar, Kunduz and Shir Khan Bandar  also north with east and Kandahar with Chaman and Quetta in  Pakistan", he added.

The new route will enable Afghan traders to import grain, fuel and food items from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia. The railroad can also help NATO move supplies for its international troops, making it less dependent on the supply routes through Pakistan which often come under attack.

Security of rail route

The security of the railroad project is currently being assured by a police force of 500 men. The commander of the forces, General Asghar Asghari, told Radio Liberty "with the existing police force, we can ensure the safety of the railroad. The trains belonging to the company have been running back and forth around the clock for the last three to four months".

However concerns remain about the long term security of the railroad. In the last few years the Taliban have been holding more and more sway in provinces in the north, particularly Kunduz. Taliban have been attacking fuel tankers supplying fuel from Tajikistan through Kunduz and Baghlan to coalition forces based in Bagram airbase. But Asghari said it is easy to provide security for the railroad at present and the railroad project continues with no problem.

More rail projects are in the planning stages. An agreement was signed between the Minister of Mines and the Chinese ambassador for a survey of a potential railroad project between Kabul and Torkham and between Kabul and Hairatan. A Chinese company has secured the contract for the Aynak copper mines, one of the largest deposits of copper anywhere in the world, located in the Logar province south of Kabul. China intends to invest $13 billion in the project.

The Minister of Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani said the railroad would not only facilitate transportation of copper from the Aynak mines, but also transportation of goods in a cost-effective fashion. "Based on the agreement, technical, economic and design aspects of the potential railroad project will be studied. The railroad track will stretch from Kabul to Torkham through eastern Afghanistan and then from Kabul to Bamiyan, Ghorband and eventually to Hairatan. The total length of the track is estimated to be 930 kms", he said.


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