Seeking to bypass Russia, Uzbekistan eyes railway access to sea routes

By Rustam Temirov

An employee of an Afghan train line walks along a rail track in the centre of the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge in Hairatan, Balkh province, Afghanistan, on February 9, 2019. [Farshad Usyan/AFP]

An employee of an Afghan train line walks along a rail track in the centre of the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge in Hairatan, Balkh province, Afghanistan, on February 9, 2019. [Farshad Usyan/AFP]

TASHKENT -- Preliminary work has started on a railway from Uzbekistan to Pakistan that could allow Tashkent to bypass Russian transport routes as Moscow continues to face Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Workers from Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan on July 18 in Afghanistan started to determine the route for the Trans-Afghan Railway, Uzbek news agency Dunyo reported, citing Mohammad Sadiq, Pakistan's special envoy to Afghanistan.

Authorities in Tashkent in February 2021 signed off on a road map for construction of the railway, which would run between Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, Afghanistan, and Peshawar, Pakistan.

An Uzbek-built railway already runs from Termez, Uzbekistan, to Mazar-e-Sharif.

A map shows the proposed Trans-Afghan Railway from Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, Afghanistan, to Peshawar, Pakistan. The dotted black line represents the proposed segment. [Rustam Temirov/Caravanserai]

A map shows the proposed Trans-Afghan Railway from Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, Afghanistan, to Peshawar, Pakistan. The dotted black line represents the proposed segment. [Rustam Temirov/Caravanserai]

The Termez Cargo Centre in Termez, Uzbekistan, is shown October 21. Trucks from Afghanistan and Pakistan arrive there. [Rustam Temirov/Caravanserai]

The Termez Cargo Centre in Termez, Uzbekistan, is shown October 21. Trucks from Afghanistan and Pakistan arrive there. [Rustam Temirov/Caravanserai]

In Peshawar, after completion of the railway, workers would offload goods and then transport them to the Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Gwadar and Qasim.

Construction of the railway -- first proposed in 2018 by Uzbekistan -- is expected to take five years at an estimated cost of $4.8 billion, The Diplomat reported July 26.

Once completed, the nearly 600km-long railway will bring Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries closer to the Indian Ocean and reduce the time required to deliver goods from Uzbekistan to Pakistani seaports from 30-35 days to 10-15 days, according to the plan.

Transportation costs are also expected to fall by 30-35%, reported in February 2021. In its few first years, the Trans-Afghan corridor could transport up to 10 million tonnes of cargo per year, it added.

Reducing reliance on Russia

Uzbekistan depends on Eurasian transport infrastructure going north through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Belarus to move about 80% of its foreign trade, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev told parliament in January 2020, according to the Tashkent Times.

Three of the eight main transport corridors that connect Uzbekistan to international markets pass through Russia.

But now, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, those routes have been hindered by Western sanctions.

During a visit to Islamabad in March, Mirziyoyev noted the special importance of this project.

"The railway [the Termez–Mazar-e-Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar route] is our shared future," he said. "When the construction of this route is complete, we will create the shortest, cheapest and most secure corridor connecting Pakistan to Central Asia."

"This railway will completely change the look of our regions," Mirziyoyev said, according to

Strengthening independence

Tashkent has been maintaining a delicate balancing act over its economic ties with Russia since the start of the war in February, but the threat of secondary sanctions still looms.

Now, more than ever, Uzbekistan needs to look for new transport routes, said Farkhod Mirzabayev, a political scientist from Tashkent.

The geopolitical situation in the region and in the world makes the planned Trans-Afghan Railway essential, he said.

"Despite all the existing difficulties and obstacles, Uzbekistan should co-operate with Afghanistan and Pakistan to implement this project," he said.

"We should not worry about the opinions and arguments of sceptical experts and politicians, because this railway will strengthen our independence."

Challenges remain, say some observers.

Nations need a variety of transport routes to ensure stable socio-economic development, according to Ravshan Nazarov, an Uzbek historian.

Uzbekistan presently uses only the old and proven northern corridors through Kazakhstan and Russia, he said.

Routes to the south through Afghanistan, to the east through Kyrgyzstan and China, and to the west through the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus are still in the works, though.

Of those alternatives, "to date, the most realistic route is the eastern one -- through Kyrgyzstan and China," Nazarov said, adding that instability in Afghanistan remains a challenge for the southern route.

Maxim Matnazarov of Tashkent, a historian and veteran of the Soviet-Afghan war, agreed.

Afghanistan's instability "complicates the issue of attracting international financial institutions and leading world powers" to the railway project, he said.

Afghanistan's terrain is also mountainous, so crossing it will require many bridges, tunnels and other bypass roads, raising construction costs, he added.

Regional links and options

Still, the project has the support of regional leaders.

Kazakhstan is ready to help build the Trans-Afghan Railway, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said during a meeting of Central Asian heads of state July 21.

"We can ensure an uninterrupted supply of materials for building the railway and can provide rolling stock," he said in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, according to

Meanwhile, Pakistan and Uzbekistan already are connected by a road that runs through Afghanistan. In June, Uzbek truck drivers used it for the first time to deliver cargo to Pakistan, according to the Uzbek Transport Ministry.

The 2,760km-long journey to Karachi took one week. The trucks delivered frozen meat.

Meanwhile, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili during a visit to Uzbekistan on July 19 suggested the possibility of exporting Uzbek products to Europe through Georgia's Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi, according to Mirziyoyev's press office.

Although the Russian naval blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports makes those ports impossible to use at present, geopolitical realities also dictate transit through Georgia, said Mirzabayev, the political scientist from Tashkent.

"Uzbekistan is trying to put greater emphasis on existing alternative routes, including the route through the South Caucasus -- the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars railway," noted Akram Umarov, an independent Uzbek analyst of Afghanistan.

"This route enables access to Europe both by land and by sea," he said.

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I don’t think that Uzbekistan would be able to touch its this dream. Under any circumstances, Russia doesn’t want the Central Asian countries to get rid of its circle of influence; therefore, it would utilize all its efforts to prevent the connection of Uzbekistan to South Asia. Pakistan is also not trustworthy. This country knows very well how to play with other countries and use their disagreement for its interest. Along with these, Pakistan doesn’t want to displease Russia for some small economic benefits. Therefore, despite detailed planning and plans for the construction of roads and railways, I don’t think that this dream of Uzbekistan would come true.


Dude, I don't think that this wool will turn into a carpet because it has been said for years that it starts today and tomorrow, starts today, and starts tomorrow. So, when will you begin it? It has been years since this issue has been in the headlines, but no practical aspect was found, and no practical step was taken in this area. Until these spontaneous governments of Afghanistan are transformed into a unified government, I don't think this project will be implemented or if Afghans will benefit from it. In simple terms, these are just rumors and cheating the people. If such projects are implemented in Afghanistan, what will Punjabis and Iranians eat? Afghanistan is a major market for its products. They (Pakistan and Iran) never allow such big projects to succeed here; instead, they are trying to destroy some of these works through their mercenaries. The rest, Allah knows...


Although it could be good news for the Afghans, but as long as there are partisan governments in Afghanistan, I don't think this would happen. Uzbekistan should also be careful not to be deceived by Pakistan, I doubt Pakistan’s intentions since this country can’t see a stable government in Afghanistan, under any circumstances. Therefore I think Pakistan would block these corridors either by themselves or through the Taliban.


This can be good news for Afghans, but now I know such news as rumors. When I was young, I heard about the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline) project and the opportunity for Afghans to work in it, but nothing happened. As long as there are partisan governments in Afghanistan, I don't think this can be done. This is possible in Afghanistan only if all Afghans come together. For decades, puppet groups have been taking power in Afghanistan. This work is done only so that the neighbors (Iran and Pakistan...) keep Afghanistan as a market and sell their manufactured goods...


It was already clear that Central Asian countries needed to support Afghanistan's stability for having access to free water and trade with South Asian countries. South Asia also has similar needs, especially in Pakistan, whose commercial goods have lost their credibility worldwide and need to find new markets. But I doubt the intention of Pakistan because this country in no way can see a stable state in Afghanistan. Therefore, I think that Pakistan will block these trade corridors directly or through the Taliban.


Afghans don’t know what is going on. Pakistan shamelessly wants to cut off the Wakhan corridor from Afghanistan and construct its commercial corridor in it. By occupying Wakhan, Pakistan aims to connect itself with Central Asian countries and the Russian Federation. Although the Taliban, the puppet government of Punjab (Pakistan) denies such claims, the reality on the ground shows that Pakistan wants to establish the Wakhan trade corridor as quickly as possible. Pakistan is constructing roads on the other side of the Durand Line to connect it with the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, delegations of Pakistani businessmen and its army generals are visiting Afghanistan every day to force them to sign the treaty of handing over the Wakhan corridor to Pakistan. The construction of the Wakhan commercial corridor will eradicate Afghanistan's commercial importance and would also endanger Afghanistan's independence more than ever. This is a direct occupation of a country. I call on the United Nations Security Council and the world's countries to help the people of Afghanistan and make them free from Punjab’s occupation. This betrayal by the superpower of the world is enough that it cooperated with Pakistan to overthrow the republican system, but at least in this area, it should do its conscientious duty and not let Pakistan violate international laws in such a shameless way.


Pakistan is not trusted at all. There is no difference between Pakistan and a prostitute. Uzbekistan should be careful not to be deceived by Pakistan. In this regard, the administration of Kabul should also be aware that Pakistan does not use the territory of Afghanistan for its benefit. Death to Pakistan


Afghanistan has always been used by any country to maintain its own interests. Throughout the history, Afghanistan has been the victim of the politics and policies of foreign countries. A hundred years ago, when Britain and Russia didn’t want to face each other, they kept Afghanistan as a buffer country between the two superpowers and annexed all the fertile land and territory of Afghanistan to their soil. Thereafter, the Russians invaded Afghanistan under the pretext of protecting April’s revolution, the Americans then used Afghanistan as a trap and defeated Russians by using Afghans. After that the United States achieved its goal, it forgot and abandoned Afghanistan during the civil war. It then attacked Afghanistan in the name of counter terrorism, and when it achieved its goals, it surrendered the country to Punjab and its militias, the Taliban. Now each neighboring country has a separate dream for Afghanistan. China wants to steal and loot its mines. Iran is waiting for Afghanistan's free water to flow into its land. Pakistan also seems itself as the owner of Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan want to reach Pakistan and the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan. In the meantime, it is not clear what benefit will come to Afghanistan. Because even now, Pakistani trucks are transporting Pakistan's commercial goods to Central Asia, while Afghanistan has no right to export its commercial goods to India through Pakistan.