A three-month trial period will see cargo trains from China deliver goods to Afghanistan via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Afghan product exports follow the same route back to china This new rail corridor began its test run on September 13th when the first two cargo containers to be transported by trucks from the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang province arrived in the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. From there, the cargo will be transported by rail through Uzbekistan and on to Hairatan, a border town in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province. According to the Kyrgyz The national railway operator, Kyrgyz Temir Zholu, by September 15 is expected to have ten containers with cargo from China along the route.
The agreement for a test run of a new economic corridor between China and Afghanistan was signed on September 11, when the representatives of the national railway authorities of Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan met in Tashkent with Zhejiang Union of Railway International Logistics Co Ltd, a Chinese private logistics company.
The Zhejiang Union of Railway International Logistics company is expected to transport 3,500 to 5,000 commercial freight containers from China each round. Under the agreement, the time it takes for goods to reach Afghanistan from China will be reduced from two months to two weeks. The Afghan Railway Authority also stated that import and export tariffs would be significantly reduced on goods transported by rail.
Currently, the port of Karachi in Pakistan serves as a point of entry for commercial goods to Afghanistan from China. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Investment said that the current route costs Afghanistan a significant amount of money, apparently due to frequent delays and transit costs. In particular, if successful, the proposed rail corridor would bypass Pakistan.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country and has traditionally relied on Pakistan’s land routes and seaports for international trade. the frequent border interruptions at key checkpoints along the Afghanistan-Pakistan borders remains a challenge for Afghan traders. While running the test rail route could enhance China’s engagement with Afghanistan, it should not be construed as a snub to Pakistan by China or as a replacement for the Afghan route to China through Pakistan. Overall, China’s economic engagement with Pakistan remains strong and investments in Afghanistan are still relatively small.
There are three main challenges facing the proposed rail route. The first is the suspicion of Chinese investment in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Second, there are many unanswered questions surrounding the financing of the project if it goes ahead. Finally, there are also longstanding security tensions along the shared border between Kyrgyzstan and China and within Afghanistan.
With the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continuing, longer-term sanctions and a reduction in trade with Russia could result in the redesign of some supply chains and trade routes.
The need for additional transport links is a longstanding problem for Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, both landlocked countries. For Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the new railway corridor means the expansion of trade and transport corridors. The route would generate transit fees, which would benefit local industries and provide an opportunity to improve their infrastructure.
This is true, particularly in the case of Kyrgyzstan, for which the reasons are threefold. First of all, since its independence, Bishkek has struggled to attract funds to repair and expand its rail services; Furthermore, relative even to its Central Asian neighbors, Kyrgyzstan is more vulnerable to geopolitical tensions. Finally, border disagreements between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have impeded previous efforts at regional connectivity, but that relationship has greatly improved.
The trial run of the China-Afghanistan corridor could also see the start of the highly anticipated China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (commonly known as CKU) rail project. The CKU is a 4,380-kilometre multimodal railway that aims to connect Kashgar in the Chinese province of Xinjiang with the city of Andijan in Uzbekistan through Kyrgyzstan.
In July this year, the office of the President of Kyrgyzstan, Sadyr Japarov, Announced that China will finalize the agreement at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. The summit, which starts today, will give us a good indication of how the China-Afghanistan rail corridor fits into China’s plans for the region and how seriously it is being considered.
For Uzbekistan, Tashkent has been aligning the country’s development agenda with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) ambitions since 2019. This rail corridor from China to Afghanistan not only complements the CKU, but also other project backed by Uzbekistan, the trans-Afghan rail project. .
For China, Afghanistan enjoys a strategic geographical position, offering a potential land shortcut for containerized imports of goods. In 2020, China was the fourth largest export destination for Afghan products, after the United Arab Emirates (UAE), India and Pakistan. was also the sixth largest font of imported goods for Afghan markets, after the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan and the United States.
If history is any indication, without stability in Afghanistan, China can invest a little and make long-term promises, but it will not do more. However, despite setbacks over the years, China remains interested and continues to play a growing role in the region.
The relevance of testing the China-Afghanistan rail route also lies in its timing. While talk of this potential route began in 2019, it has only recently been given any real attention. In preparation for the SCO summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping published a statement on relations between China and Uzbekistan. One of the priorities on the agenda was the issue of security in Afghanistan. Similarly, the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirzoyeyev issued a statement emphasizing southern transportation routes, specifically highlighting the Trans-Afghan rail project.
The testing of this new rail corridor comes against a backdrop of disruption to global supply routes. In light of this, the need for cooperation and diversification of global supply chains in East-West and North-South directions is taking on a strategic dimension. This is equally true for the five Central Asian republics, as sanctions against Russia have restricted their supply chains. While this may help add more relevance to the upcoming SCO, unity in the group remains elusive: the group struggles to address core security issues in part because it includes long-standing antagonists like India and Pakistan. And despite improving cooperation, the SCO has struggled to push forward regional economic integration. It is not a trade pact or an investment vehicle, and its members often cannot agree on specific infrastructure projects.
The China-Afghanistan route is a long way from being open to serious commercial traffic. But this test perhaps paints a bigger picture. As Russia’s strength fades in Central Asia, Beijing may gain ground on key issues like trade routes. Such efforts contribute to China’s long-term aspiration to shift world trade from a sea-based to a land-based one.
With that in mind, at the summit, we can expect to see a series of trade and transportation deals, perhaps packaged as “Belt and Road” investments. With the current geopolitical challenges, the SCO summit could present a window of opportunity for Central Asian leaders. For them, it presents an opportunity to be in the driver’s seat and push for alternative trade routes, so that they, too, can have a seat at the negotiating table.