Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan have signed a plan for a mega railway project to improve trade and connectivity. Image Credit: Agency

Islamabad: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan have signed a strategic plan for a mega railway project to improve regional trade and connectivity, offering the landlocked region direct access to the Arabian Sea.

The signing ceremony for the multi-billion-dollar project took place in Tashkent following trilateral talks attended by senior officials from the three countries. Pakistan’s Advisor to the PM on Commerce and Investment Razak Dawood, Uzbekistan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Investments Sardor Umurzakov and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar led their respective countries.

Multi-billion-dollar railway link

Representatives of international financial organisations who attended the meeting welcomed the initiative and expressed readiness to provide full support for the project, which will be crucial for regional economic growth. The three countries earlier signed a joint proposal seeking a $4.8 billion loan from global financial institutions to develop the rail route.

Rail project details

The trans-Afghan railway line ‘Mazar-e-Sharif – Kabul – Peshawar’ project comprises of 573-km long railway track and will connect Pakistan’s Peshawar city to Afghanistan’s cities of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif all the way to Uzbekistan. The trilateral project connecting Pakistan with Afghanistan and Uzbekistan will include both passenger and cargo high-speed trains, according to Pakistan’s Minister for Railways Azam Khan Swati.

Key facts
- Cost: US$4.8 billion
- Track length: 573-km
- Goal: Improve regional trade and connectivity by offering landlocked Central Asia direct access to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port.

New opportunities

Pakistan’s commerce advisor Razak Dawood said that the roadmap for the railway project would connect the three countries and open a new chapter of regional development. The initiative “will connect Central and South Asia by the shortest route” and open Pakistan’s seaports to the Central Asian and Eurasian railway systems to boost trade flows and strengthen the regional economy, Dawood said in his separate meeting with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. The two sides also discussed development of road, rail and air connectivity for freight transport and also a preferential trade agreement to boost bilateral trade.

Improve regional trade and connectivity

The high-level summit takes place following the meeting of Prime Minister Imran Khan and Uzbekistan’s Minister for Transport Makhkamov Ilkham in Islamabad in December 2020 to improve rail and road connectivity. Highlighting the significance of joint efforts to promote connectivity for regional development, PM Khan said that “Pakistan’s seaports provide a great opportunity to the Central Asian States” to access the Arabian Sea. The project will help improve regional “trade and connectivity through Afghanistan to Central Asia Republics,” Dawood said.

The trilateral rail project would also open new opportunities for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan by creating tens of thousands of new jobs, the official statement said. At the Tashkent meeting, the three sides also agreed to conduct a joint expedition to survey the route and investigate the terrain conditions as well as a preliminary feasibility study for the project. The officials of the three states described the rail project as “a powerful platform” with the potential to stimulate economic growth of the three countries as well as regional and interregional trade.