The Uzbekistan Railways link to Afghanistan currently runs for 75 kms starting at the border with Mazar-i-Sharif. According to Nick Powell, Political Editor, plans are underway to expand the line to Kabul in Pakistan and Peshawar in Pakistan.
Although a rail link between Uzbekistan and Pakistan has been suggested for some time, it is now closer to becoming a reality due to Uzbekistan’s policy of “positive neutrality” towards Afghanistan. Ambassador Ismatulla Irgashev (the President of Uzbekistan), spoke at a briefing in Brussels about how his country responded to “the complex, deteriorating” situation following the withdrawal of the United States from Kabul in August 2021.
He described a “critical, pragmatic” dialogue between the Taliban. This reflects Uzbekistan’s obligation to Afghan people who are suffering from hunger and cold, as well as its foreign policy priority of supporting regional peace and stability. He stated that he has been engaged with all sides in Afghanistan ever since the 1990s, and that the differences between them and now were stark.
He spoke out about the obligation of the international community to achieve a lasting peace for Afghanistan. The war that raged in Afghanistan for 40 years was not the result of Afghan citizens choosing it, but rather a clash of global powers. All sides in Afghanistan respected Uzbekistan, as demonstrated by the fact that it saved the lives tens of thousands last year of diplomats and refugees, many of whom were persuaded by the Taliban to allow them to return home.
Ambassador Irgashev stated that while there was no doubt that Afghanistan has its most independent government for 40 years, the problem is that the Taliban don’t want power sharing with other Afghans. He stressed the importance of building a moderate Kabul leadership that does not believe women have no rights.
Afghans received training in Uzbekistan as a next step toward the planned rail link. Some of those Afghan trainees were female. This was a sign that there is more cooperation between Kabul’s previous governments, and that they are willing to move forward with the proposed railway project.
Akmal Kamalov (Vice-Chair Uzbek Railways) gave a presentation on the $5.96 million rail link. It would take five years to construct. In July and August, the Uzbek government and Pakistani governments paid for an expedition to survey the route of 187 km. The expedition included five tunnels.
Security was not a concern, as lorries were making their way between the railwayheads at Mazar i-Sharif (Peshawar) without incident. In ten months, shipment volumes had increased from 28,000 to 500,000 tonnes to 28,000 tonnes.
The railway would serve as a physical representation of the link Ambassador Irgashev stated Uzbekistan was already offering Afghanistan. It would also be a way to communicate the message that Afghanistan shouldn’t be considered a threat to any country in the region.
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