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Trans-Afghan Railroad Fuels Surge in Regional Trade

  • Afghanistan's trade with Uzbekistan in 2023 reached $266 million, with imports mainly consisting of electricity, flour, and oil, while exports included dried fruits, carpets, and sesame.
  • Plans are underway for a trans-Afghan railroad connecting Uzbekistan and Pakistan, anticipated to reduce transport costs by 40% and increase cargo capacity to 15 million tons by 2030.
  • Efforts are being made to upgrade existing rail infrastructure and streamline customs procedures to further enhance regional trade and connectivity between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Trade between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan in 2023 increased sixfold year-on-year, hitting $266 million, a certain sign that engagement between the war-stricken nation and its northern neighbors is flourishing despite the Taliban’s ascendancy.

Afghan news agency Tolonews cited an Industry and Trade Ministry representative in Kabul as saying that imports from Uzbekistan over that period reached $239 million, while $27 million of goods went in the other direction.

“Most of our exported items to Uzbekistan are dried fruit, fruit juice, apricots, sesame, carpets, and most of our imported items are electricity, flour, beans, chemical fertilizers, oil and gas,” Akhundzada Abdul Salam Jawad, a spokesman for the ministry, was cited as saying in a January 9 report.

This pattern provides strong vindication for ongoing plans to construct a trans-Afghan railroad that would link Uzbekistan with Pakistan. Officials from the three countries met in Islamabad in July to sign a protocol outlining a roadmap for the project, which should culminate in a route running from Termez in Uzbekistan, through Mazar-i-Sharif and Logar in Afghanistan and finally reaching the Kharlachi border crossing in Pakistan. The roadmap envisions organizing technical feasibility studies and exploring funding options.

Uzbek officials estimate that building this railroad will reduce transport costs of goods coming to and from Pakistan by 40 percent. The cost of completing the work has been estimated at $6 billion and it is hoped that up to 15 million tons of cargo will be able to travel along the route by 2030.

In the more immediate future, there are plans to upgrade an already-existing 75-kilometer segment of railway running from Khairaton in south Uzbekistan to Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. This railroad was put into operation in 2011 and has since been maintained by the Uzbek state railway company. Railroad officials from the countries met in November and agreed that the work should start “as soon as possible.”

Dialogue on hardware is now being accompanied by regular contacts on easing the bureaucratic complications of doing business across borders.

Also in November, trade officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan gathered in Islamabad for a maiden session of the Trilateral Meeting on Trade and Transit format, which has been instituted to explore ways to reduce trade barriers and streamline customs procedures. Pakistani Commerce Minister Gohar Ejaz described the meeting as a “significant step towards enhancing regional connectivity, promoting trade, and fostering cooperation.”

“Exciting times ahead!” he wrote on Twitter.

By Eurasianet.org

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