Railroads connect, divide Central Asian neighbors

News & Insights
Jun 17, 2013
Earlier this month, officials from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan officially launched the effort to build a 400-kilometer railroad connecting the three countries. The new railroad will hypothetically provide producers in landlocked Tajikistan and Afghanistan with a new route to the Caspian Sea, while potentially opening South Asian markets to Turkmenistan and the other states of inner Central Asia. Meanwhile, it would allow Tajikistan to bypass its immediate neighbor to the west, Uzbekistan, which has been choking Tajistan’s rail traffic for political reasons.

But building an international railroad is far trickier than signing a trilateral agreement. As the above-cited report points out, there are already disagreements among the three states about the exact route the railroad should take, and out of the three, only Turkmenistan can afford to bankroll its section of the project on its own. It should also be clear to any perspective funder that conflict in Afghanistan could potentially raise the cost of the project significantly.

Though the northern section of the country through which the rail would pass has been relatively stable, some observers have already seen signs that the Afghan Taliban are targeting new infrastructure and resource development projects. Rail lines are very easy to attack and very difficult to effectively secure over long stretches.

In the end, effective transportation links between the countries of this region will require more than the agreement of the nations concerned. Sufficient funding, expertise, and protection can only be secured through by-in by all the countries and institutions that would stand to benefit from a more efficient transportation system.