Uzbekistan’s Minister for Transport Makhkamov Ilkham pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Uzbekistan’s Minister for Transport Makhkamov Ilkham calls on Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on December 29, 2020. Image Credit: PID

Islamabad: Pakistan has signed a joint letter seeking a $4.8 billion loan from international financial institutions for a mega railway project to connect Pakistan with Uzbekistan via Afghanistan and later to other Central Asian states. The joint project has already been approved by the presidents of Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has signed the letter on behalf of Pakistan, Abdul Razak Dawood, adviser to the prime minister on commerce and investment, confirmed. The project will help improve regional “trade and connectivity through Afghanistan to the Central Asia Republics,” Dawood said.

Improve region trade and connectivity

The signing ceremony, held on December 29 in Islamabad, was attended by Uzbekistan’s Minister for Transport Makhkamov Ilkham and senior Pakistan government officials. During the meeting, Imran Khan affirmed Pakistan’s eagerness “to forge closer ties with Central Asia, covering trade, investments, energy, and people-to-people contacts.” Recalling his last meeting with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Khan said that Pakistan looked forward to his visit to deepen bilateral cooperation. The Uzbek minister restated Uzbekistan’s desire to improve bilateral trade and commercial ties and connectivity with Pakistan during his one-day visit to Islamabad to discuss rail and road cooperation, offering the landlocked region direct access to the sea. Emphasising the significance of joint efforts to promote connectivity for regional development, Khan said that “Pakistan’s seaports provide a great opportunity to the Central Asian States” to access the Arabian Sea.

Cost and track details

The $4.8 billion trans-Afghan railway line “Mazar-e-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar” project comprises of 573-km long railway track, connecting Peshawar to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif all the way to Uzbekistan. Pakistan would operate the routes from Peshawar to Torkham beyond which Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will operate it, officials said.

Railway project to benefit three countries

Special Assistant to the Railways Minister Ghulam Dastgir said that the project’s feasibility report is ready and the World Bank had given in-principle approval for the loan. The project would build on the already existing railway infrastructure in the three countries, he added. “Once operational, it will boost transit trade between Pakistan and Central Asian region”, making Pakistan the economic hub for the Central Asian Republics. In December 2018, the heads of the railway administrations of Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan met in Tashkent to discuss an ambitious railway line to offer the countries of South and Central Asia access to promising markets in Asia and Europe.

Boost for Pakistan Railways

Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati said the trilateral project connecting Pakistan Railways with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will include both passenger and cargo high-speed trains. Swati termed the project “a huge opportunity” to boost trade flows and strengthening regional economy. The project offers a new impetus to Pakistan Railways after the country’s most expensive $6.8 billion Mainline-1 (ML-1) project to upgrade 2,655km tracks under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The trilateral rail project opens up “a whole corridor to the Central Asian Republics”, Swati said, adding that potential connection with parts of Russia is also an important aspect of rail linkages.