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U.S. Central Command helps Afghanistan develop rail infrastructure linked to its neighbors in Central Asia.

As part of the Pentagon's effort to help Afghanistan "to be increasingly integrated economically within the region," the U.S. Department of Defense has been helping Afghanistan create rail infrastructure that would link the country to its neighbors in Central Asia, according to the latest quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (or SIGAR) released in Washington last week. "Afghanistan has no meaningful railroad development, operational experience, or capacity of its own at this time" but "donor stakeholders hope that will change with the establishment of the Afghan Rail Authority, which received cabinet approval in September 2012," the report says. "U.S. Central Command is helping develop a National Rail Plan, which will provide recommendations to developing rail infrastructure." "Expanding the transportation networks in Afghanistan is a way to integrate Afghanistan into a wider regional context which has tremendous importance in light of the planned withdrawal of allied troops from Afghanistan after 2014," Jan Šir, a researcher at the Institute of International Studies, Charles University, Prague, and fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) in Washington, told Silk Road Newsline in an interview. "The time is ripe to move from development driven by foreign assistance to development driven by trade and this can't happen unless there are contacts with the outside world, first of all with the neighbors," Šir said. According to CACI, until recently, Afghanistan was devoid of railways, possessing only two very short single-track rail lines near its borders with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, both built during the Soviet times to deliver Afghanistan-bound cargo to the unloading terminals at the Turkmen-Afghan and Uzbek-Afghan border crossings. Tajikistan had its own narrow gauge railroad running up to the border with Afghanistan and ending at the Nizhniy Pyandzh border crossing but the line was dismantled in 1999. The 10-kilometer cross-border rail line from Serhetabat in Turkmenistan to the unloading terminal in the border town of Towraghondi in Afghanistan was upgraded in 2007 by the Government of Turkmenistan to increase its capacity by 110 percent. The 15-kilometer rail line from Termez in Uzbekistan to the border terminal at Hairatan in Afghanistan that crosses the Amu Darya river on the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge was extended by 75 km to Mazar-e Sharif in 2011 by Uzbekistan's state railway company "O'zbekiston Temir Yo'llari" that currently operates the line under a three year concession ending in 2015. "O'zbekiston Temir Yo'llari" is now expected to begin work in 2013 on the 230-kilometer extension of the line between Mazar-e Sharif and Andkhoy in western Afghanistan as part of the planned Sherkhan Bandar - Kunduz - Khulm - Naibabad - Andkhoy - Herat route scheduled to be completed by 2015, according to an action plan adopted by the 10 Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program countries at their last meeting at Wuhan in China at the end of October 2012. The same plan envisions the construction of the 50-kilometer Kolkhozobod - Dusti - Nizhniy Pyandzh - Sherkhan Bandar rail line by Tajikstan by 2015 and a new 126-kilometer Atamurat - Ymamnazar - Aqina - Andkhoy rail line by Turkmenistan and Afghanistan by 2015. According to a recent study commissioned by the Afghan ministry of public works (AMPW) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), when completed, the future 1,100-kilometer northern rail corridor from Sherkhan Bandar (on the border with Tajikistan) via Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Andkhoy and Herat to Islam Qala (on the border with Iran) with branches from Mazar-e-Sharif to Hairatan (on the border with Uzbekistan) and from Andkhoy to Aqina (on the border with Turkmenistan) will give Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan access to world markets via the Iranian sea port of Bandar Abbas and will also "create a new rail traffic corridor for Central Asia free from area of Russian influence, and provide such access to world markets as has never existed before." "Trade in the CAREC region particularly with Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan will substantially increase. More importantly this new route will create an entirely new transport corridor between Central Asia and world markets via ports on the Indian Ocean, avoiding Russia and the CIS. This route also will be half the length of that traditionally used by these countries via Russia through to the Baltic Sea," the AMPW-ADB study says.

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Publication:AKIpress News Agency
Date:Feb 8, 2013
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