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The Trans-Afghan Railway – A mirage or a reality?

Annisa Essack | kzn@radioislam.org.za
18 September 2023 | 12:00 CAT

2 min read

Photo Credit: Eurasianet

In the heart of Central and South Asia lies a vision that could reshape the region’s economic and geopolitical landscape – the Trans-Afghan Railway project. This ambitious initiative, which aims to link the ancient cities of Tashkent and Kabul, has been in the making for six years, but it’s now poised to transform regional connectivity and trade.

To shed light on the complexities surrounding this monumental endeavour, Radio Islam International recently interviewed Fakir Shakil, who authored an in-depth article exploring the intricate web of challenges, opportunities, and diplomatic manoeuvres related to the project.

The idea for the Trans-Afghan Railway project was first floated by Pakistan in 2018, with Uzbekistan later joining the discussions. Uzbekistan’s interest in the project stemmed from its need for new trade routes, as it lost access to a passage through Russia. The project was dormant for a while, but recent developments, including the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, have rekindled interest in the railway.

However, one significant hurdle looms large – financing. None of the participating countries possess the financial resources to fund such a massive undertaking. While there were initial reports of approaching American financial institutions for funding, Afghanistan’s instability and the absence of a U.S. presence make this option challenging. Chinese financial backing has also been considered, but no official confirmation has been received.

The potential benefits of the Trans-Afghan Railway project are substantial for all three countries involved. Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, both landlocked nations, lack access to seaports, making trade challenging. The project would provide them a crucial link to the Karachi port in Pakistan, facilitating trade with China, the Middle East, and Europe.

However, security concerns are a significant obstacle. Various insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan threaten the railway’s security. The Taliban, despite their involvement in the project, lack the power to expel these terrorist organizations from Afghan territory.

One alarming development is ISIS’s threat to target the project if it proceeds. The absence of a concrete security plan raises questions about the feasibility and safety of the railway.

The Trans-Afghan Railway project remains a vision teetering on the edge of realization. While the potential benefits are undeniable, the financial and security-related challenges are daunting. As Central and South Asia navigate this complex terrain, the fate of this transformative railway hangs in the balance, awaiting solutions to its intricate web of challenges.

Listen to the full interview with Sulaimaan Ravat and his guest, Faqir Shakil, on Sabahul Muslim here.

 

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