Crossroads Asia | Diplomacy | Financial system | Central Asia
Accessing seaports at decrease prices and shorter distances is a decades-old points Tashkent is making an attempt to unravel, Pakistani ports may be the reply.
Tashkent has been engaged on creating shorter and cheaper transportation corridors to entry seaports for the reason that nation’s independence. On February 2, the primary trilateral talks had been held amongst officers from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The territory of Afghanistan, itself a landlocked nation, has all the time been a essential nation for Tashkent in negotiating entry to ports of a littoral nation.
The trilateral talks, attended by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Funding and International Commerce of Uzbekistan Sardor Umurzakov, Advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister on Commerce and Funding Abdul Razzaq Dawood, and Afghan International Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, ended by adopting the Mazar-i Shareef-Kabul-Peshawar Street Map.
Based on the roadmap plan, the development of the 600-km railroad ought to take 5 years and can permit entry to the Pakistani ports of Gwadar and Karachi. Central Asia’s different initiatives with Afghanistan — the Surkhon-Puli Humri excessive voltage electrical energy line to permit Uzbekistan to provide electrical energy to Afghanistan and the CASA-1000 regional electrical energy challenge supplying surplus electrical energy from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan — will move by the identical communication lanes and can distribute building bills amongst the three initiatives.
Tashkent has additional arguments in favor of prioritizing entry to Pakistani ports. The challenge presents new alternatives to all individuals. For Pakistan and different international locations, resembling India, the highway would open alternatives for connecting with markets of the Commonwealth of Unbiased States (CIS) by rail. At the moment, these commerce relations are supported by sea routes solely.
The highway is alleged to lower transportation time from 30 to fifteen days from Uzbekistan and different Central Asian international locations to Pakistan and cut back bills by 30-35 p.c. (The challenge will profit not solely Central Asian international locations, however would slash transportation prices between Russia and Pakistan by 15-20 p.c, too.)
Uzbekistan is presently extremely reliant on the Iranian seaport of Bandar Abbas, accessed by means of Turkmenistan. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s earlier efforts had been targeted on persevering with to make use of Iran’s port, however exploring choices to entry it extra immediately, resembling by way of a brand new railroad from Afghanistan’s Herat. Uzbekistan’s different earlier efforts, such because the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Oman railroad corridors, additionally clearly concerned Iran.
Tashkent seems to be reevaluating its plans in favor of de-emphasizing entry to Iranian ports, and the financial rhetoric is dominant. Based on Eldar Aripov, director of the Institute of Strategic and Regional Research, the Mazar-i-Shareef-Peshawar challenge gives a wholly new transportation possibility whereas the Herat possibility merely expands present routes. The price of transporting a container from Tashkent to Karachi can be roughly $1,400-$1,600, whereas on the Tashkent-Bandar-Abbas route it’s $2,600-$3,000. Moreover, the development of the Herat connection shall be difficult, however the Pakistan route would faucet into quite a lot of present initiatives.
Two years in the past, Aripov spoke of two different causes why the Pakistani ports ought to obtain precedence over different railroad choices. The primary cause is that the Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar highway is the shortest route linking Uzbekistan to a seaport. Second, the highway along with the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China hall unites the 4 largest corridors in China, the CIS, Europe, and South Asia.
Bringing three international locations into the identical room to signal a standard doc is a severe stride towards establishing the railroad. Tashkent stays away from making geopolitical feedback, however the Iran-U.S. escalations following the killing of Qassem Soleimani a 12 months in the past and Iran’s continued precarious geopolitical state of affairs may arguably have contributed to Tashkent’s determination to decide on Pakistan’s ports. That selection signifies a small step away from the dangerous companion towards a extra steady possibility.