Tashkent recently reassured Iran of Iran’s interest in Iran’s sea route, but Uzbekistan has been actively looking for a new route through Afghanistan to Pakistan’s ports.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sightseeing Central Asia April 5-8 visit Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. During a stopover in Uzbekistan, he sought Tashkent’s assurance of interest in railway projects that would connect the two countries and confirmed Uzbekistan’s continued use of Iranian seaports. Although the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev rest assured Zarif believes that his country is still interested in the railway that runs through Iran, and in the past few months, Uzbekistan has stepped up efforts to complete the trans-Afghanistan railway to Pakistan.
Just two months ago, in February, officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan held it first tripartite meeting on the construction of a trans-Afghanistan railway. The parties signed a map of the construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar railway to connect Uzbekistan to Pakistan’s ports via Afghanistan. The Uzbekistani Foreign Ministry is actively working to ensure the project is implemented.
Tashkent’s interest in Pakistani ports has prompted Uzbekistan’s top management to open up new lines of communication. Mirziyoyev and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan held their first bilateral meeting on April 14, discussion focused on the trans-Afghanistan railway project. Before the fighting, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov visit arrives in Pakistan on March 10. Negotiations with the Taliban movement and the Afghan government are also active. Kamilov meet with the Taliban representative in Qatar on April 10. In February, Kamilov held meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar.
The Iranian railway, with the entrance to Chabahar and Bandar Abbas ports through the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport corridor, and the trans-Afghanistan railway, with the entrance to Gwadar port, are competing projects in parallel. in certain areas. The railway through Iran dates back to before the recent establishment of the trans-Afghanistan railway. On April 25, 2011, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Oman and Iran signed an agreement on a transportation corridor. The agreement is enforce in 2016, however, the project effort level over the past five years is still far below the level of effort on the trans-Afghanistan railway over the past two months.
It is not clear whether Iran-US tensions following the murder of Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3, 2020 and subsequent U.S. sanctions contributed to Tashkent’s decision to seek solutions. replacement for existing Iranian railroads or not. Any conflict in Iran would lead to disruption of important economic ties and transport connections in the region. Tashkent is attached to the railway of Iran; The Bandar-Abbas portal is currently offered the shortest approach, less than seven days, to sea for Uzbekistan not bordered by a double sea.
The trans-Afghanistan railway is attractive for many reasons, but most importantly, if completed, it will provide a shorter route to the seaport for Central Asian countries, especially. Uzbekistan. The construction of the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul section of the trans-Afghanistan railway is planned to start in September 2021. There are existing rails connecting Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif.
While some regional projects have worn out on paper for decades, there is reason to believe that the trans-Afghanistan railway will be implemented on schedule. American International Development Finance Organization (IDFC) establish a Central Asia investment fund to finance major infrastructure projects. It has been negotiated with the Uzbekistan government since the summer of 2020. It is reasonable to assume that the trans-Afghanistan railway has been discussed under that framework.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US special representative for the reconciliation of Afghanistan, was present at the opening meeting between IDFC officials and the Uzbek government. The official statements include languages such as “Joint efforts to revive the economy in Afghanistan” and “expand trade, economic, transport and energy relations between Afghanistan and Central Asia” that clearly refers to large infrastructure projects. The Central Asian Investment Partnership Agreement, also joined by Kazakhstan, has the goal raise $ 1 billion over the next 5 years for “economic connectivity in Central Asia and the wider region.”
While Iran’s Mr. Zarif has received reassurance from Mirizyoyev that Uzbekistan continues to pay attention to the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman transport corridor, his presidential efforts over the project remain. lackluster, no real progression. The parties were unable to even hold a high-level meeting on the route. In contrast, Tashkent’s participation in the trans-Afghanistan railway, in particular its cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan, shows high interest and investment from Tashkent.