https://central.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_ca/features/2017/01/26/feature-02
| Transportation

Major potential seen for Turkmen-Afghan trade on new railway

By Dzhumaguly Annayev

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Musicians perform November 29 in Aqina, Afghanistan, as the first train arrives on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway. Aqina is presently the Afghan terminus of the under-construction railway. [TV screenshot by Dzhumaguly Annayev]

IMAMNAZAR, Turkmenistan -- A three-country railway being built in the face of potential threats by the Afghan Taliban could help Turkmenistan bring prosperity to Afghanistan, officials say.

Figures for trade between those two countries are scant, but since the first Afghan station of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway opened November 29, indications are that the railway could speed up the delivery of Turkmen goods and commodities to struggling Afghanistan -- once Afghan security permits.

Facilitating trade, transport

Already, the railway facilitated a large commodity purchase by Afghanistan.

"During the auctions this year at the Turkmenistan State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, Afghan businesses bought gasoline and wheat worth more than US $500,000," Turkmenistan's Char Tarapdan radio reported January 7.

The railway will enable much greater shipments of Turkmen goods and commodities, which previously depended entirely on roads.

"In 2016, we exported more than 1.5 million tonnes of freight to Afghanistan," Vatan TV reported December 20, citing the Turkmen government. "Now we will export five times more petroleum products, compressed natural gas, flour, cement and fertiliser."

Turkmenistan's efforts to trade with and benefit Afghanistan include the electricity sector.

The country intends to build power lines along the under-construction Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural-gas pipeline, so that it can deliver power to and through Afghanistan, Trend.az reported January 19, quoting the Turkmen government. The pipeline has been under construction since December 2015.

"In addition to providing electricity to all the infrastructural facilities along the [pipeline route], it will enable the export [of power] to other countries via Afghanistan," the Turkmen government said in its statement.

Turkmenistan has been selling discounted power to Afghanistan for 20 years, according to Trend.az.

Obstacles remain

Construction of TAT began in June 2013. However, officials in all three of the railway's countries recognise considerable problems to overcome, including the availability of funding, war in Afghanistan, and disagreement over the route for the Afghan segment.

Tajikistan has not yet begun construction of its own segment.

"We had every resource we needed," Tore Tairov of Lebap Province, a spokesman for the Turkmen Railway Transport Ministry, told Caravanserai. "We had financing, equipment and workers, and we had previous railway building experience."

Turkmenistan paid for its own railway construction itself, according to Turkmen TV news.

So far, the Imamnazar-Aqina railway extends for 85km in Turkmenistan and only 3km in Afghanistan. Further construction through Afghanistan will depend on Kabul's ability to protect the railway from Taliban sabotage, analysts say.

"The railway is impossible until you solve the problems facing the Afghan segment," Tajik economist Abdullo Ashurov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service.

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