Three Central Asian countries launch trans-Afghan Railway Project

ATAMYRAT, Turkmenistan : The leaders of three Central Asian states on Wednesday launched the construction of a hugely ambitious railway project aimed at creating a new route from energy-rich Turkmenistan to Afghanistan and then on to Tajikistan.

Land-locked neighbours Afghanistan, Tajikis-tan and Turkmenistan announced Wednesday the construction of a regional railway to expand trade with former Soviet countries and reach markets in South Asia.  The new 400-km route, expected to cost $1.5 billion, will turn Turkmenistan into a major transit country linking Russia and other former Soviet states with South Asian countries like Pakistan and India. It will also allow Tajikistan to import oil products and other vital cargo bypassing Uzbekistan. Afghanistan could also turn into a transit nation for goods flowing from Europe and Central Asia to the south. Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, joined by Afghanis-tan’s Hamid Karzai and Tajikistan’s Imomali Rakhmon, cemented a symbolic golden capsule with a message to future generations into the foundation of the future railway here. “One can call it a road of life,” Mr Rakhmon said.

Set in the remote Turkmen town of Atamyrat some 1,000 kilometres east of the capital, the launch ceremony was attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. A golden rail symbolised the start of construction, which the three nations hope will extend 400 kilometres and help rebuild the war-torn Afghan economy. Until now, the only transport links between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan have been by road.

“Taking account of the transportation possibilities of our states and their geo-political position, we took the decision to create this new route,” Berdymukhamedov said at the ceremony. “It is an important and timely step and a symbol of our good neighbourly relations,” he added. Karzai meanwhile described the launch as a “historic event” and vowed that Afghanistan would use “all its forces to realise this project”. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is expected by the three states to help finance the project. Boasting huge gas reserves, Turkmenistan is keen to take advantage of its natural wealth by boosting cooperation and influence with its resource-poor Central Asian neighbours. It is already working on a separate project for a 900-kilometre railway linking its neighbours Kazakhstan and Iran through Turkmenistan. The latest project is planned to run from Atamyrat to the Imamnazar border point before heading into Afghanistan and then Tajikistan.