Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran railway: well-forgotten past
Azerbaijan, Baku, March 29 / Trend /
Trend analytical centre expert Azer Ahmadbayli
Iranian, Afghan and Tajik presidents signed an agreement to develop the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran railway project during the fifth trilateral summit in Dushanbe on March 25. The presidents also decided that a joint working group will be established to undertake the necessary preparations. The meeting of the group must be held in Tehran in two months.
When U.S President Barack Obama addressed an audience in Cushing, Oklahoma, a few days ago, he pointed out the weak spot in the country's energy strategy. He added that we drill and extract enough oil. Every year we increase production volumes. The number of drilling rigs has recently reached record levels, but we do not have enough pipeline capacity. We cannot quickly deliver this oil to our refineries. According to the president, the solution to this problem would reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and gas prices in the country.
Perhaps, the analogy with Central Asia is not entirely correct, but it clearly demonstrates how the presence or absence of a transport infrastructure affects the economy of world leaders. The continental insularity of the Central Asian countries used to playing a key role in the commercial corridor called the Silk Road does not give them the opportunity to fully realise their economic potential. Last year's situation with Kazakh grain and the search for additional funds for its export transportation is an example.
The proposed construction project of the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran railway is almost an exact copy of one of the Silk Road routes. A very weak railway infrastructure in three countries immediately strikes the eye. The total length of railway network in Tajikistan is about 600 kilometres and less than 400 in Kyrgyzstan. Afghanistan does not have it. It is not well developed in Iran across its eastern borders. This makes the project too expensive.
Another issue is what to transport? The fact all three countries are oil dependent also strikes the eye. This is good news for Iran. There are few alternatives to Iranian oil and related products and in the opposite direction, small volumes of cotton, wool, aluminium, minerals, agricultural products and a few more items of goods (Kyrgyz gold has traditional buyers).
One cannot speak about the transportation of non-produced deposits of rare earth metals in Afghanistan. One of the decisive factors will be the speed of goods transportation. Therefore, safety of transportation, rules for crossing borders between the countries, the unification of shipping documents, the transparency of customs control may seem as challenges.
Freight flow from China, for example through the China-Central Asia transport corridor with an extension to the Persian Gulf would really increase the attractiveness of the project. By the way, China is now studying the possibility of building a railroad through Afghanistan to the Afghan-Tajik border.
The Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Persian Gulf railway is being actively constructed within the North-South transport corridor. This project will bring direct commercial relations between the two Central Asian countries outside the region to the ocean. The documents signed in Dushanbe, can break through this 'natural insulation' of two more countries in the region which would benefit from this.