An Overview of the Economic Significance of the Khaf-Herat Railway Project
By Fazl Wali Shirani
The establishment of comprehensive transportation and communication infrastructure, including highways, roads, railways, airlines, and advanced airports, is imperative for facilitating transit and fostering the development of a nation. Recognizing the importance of these infrastructure elements, the Islamic Emirate aims to capitalize on the existing and rehabilitated railway systems while also constructing new ones. Afghanistan, being a landlocked country, understands that without land routes and railways, it cannot forge robust business relationships with neighboring countries and the global community. The country's first step towards connectivity will be establishing railway connections with neighboring nations, eventually extending its reach to other countries worldwide. Although Afghanistan has a history of railway development, with a model railway built during Amanullah Khan's reign in 1920, it served as a mere prototype that failed to connect Afghanistan with the world or serve as a viable transit route. This railway line, stretching seven kilometers from Kabul's Dehmazang Machine Khana to the new town of Paghman, offered limited connectivity and transit capabilities. Unfortunately, insufficient progress has been made in this domain over the past few decades. However, the Islamic Emirate has devised plans and designs to rectify this situation and aims to establish railway networks that will connect Afghanistan with the region and subsequently with the rest of the world. Among these projects, the Mazar-e-Sharif-Herat-Kandahar Spin Boldak railway holds particular significance. Its completion will undoubtedly position Afghanistan as a pivotal connecting point within the Asian continent. While railways play a vital role in transit and trade overall, this article focuses specifically on the economic value of the Khaf-Herat railway segment.
Khaf-Herat Railway Project
The Khaf-Herat railway project is an integral component of the broader Five Nations Railway Corridor project (FNRC), encompassing Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China. Stretching over a total distance of two thousand kilometers, this railway route traverses various countries. In the case of the Khaf-Herat segment, it starts in Iran, passes through Herat in Afghanistan, extends to the Afghan-Tajik border, and continues its journey through Tajikistan. Eventually, it reaches Kyrgyzstan, where it connects with the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway. An important milestone was achieved on May 9th of this year when the first train successfully traveled from Iran to Herat using the Khaf-Herat railway. This inaugural train consisted of 17 wagons transporting 655 tons of railway equipment. The Khaf-Herat railway itself spans a distance of 225 kilometers, with 140 kilometers located within Afghanistan and the remaining 85 kilometers situated in Iran.
The Economic Significance of the Project
Afghanistan, being a landlocked country, faces the challenge of lacking maritime access, a fact well-known to its citizens. In the global context, particularly within Asian nations, train transportation stands as the optimal, safest, and most cost-effective mode of conveyance. Crucially, railway networks serve as indispensable conduits for fostering rapid trade growth, and facilitating access to regional and global markets. Without this crucial railway connectivity, Afghanistan would find it arduous to establish robust economic and commercial ties with key regional and international centers, impeding the realization of its regional connectivity goals. To address this fundamental issue, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has prioritized the development of the railway sector alongside other industries, implementing various projects and formulating plans for future endeavors. By establishing railway connections within the region, and subsequently expanding them to the global arena, Afghanistan can stimulate business development, ushering in concomitant economic growth. One exemplary initiative in this regard is the Khaf-Herat railway project, which has been successfully completed. Through this project, Afghanistan aims to bolster its trade volume and economic growth, defying the constraints of sanctions imposed by the United States and Western nations. The Khaf-Herat railway project bestows several advantages upon Afghanistan. Primarily, it establishes vital transport corridors, enabling the nation to expand its business activities despite the prevailing sanctions. Additionally, the railway offers Afghan traders a streamlined pathway to effortlessly deliver their goods through Central Asian countries, with China and India serving as key destinations before reaching international markets, all at competitive prices. Moreover, in addition to its role as a conduit for commercial goods, the railway project generates employment opportunities, consequently enhancing the economic well-being of the populace. Furthermore, the Khaf-Herat railway holds the potential to transform Afghanistan into an economic nexus, while simultaneously safeguarding the integrity of highways. Undoubtedly, the completion of the Khaf-Herat railway represents a significant milestone, propelling Afghanistan towards comprehensive trade advancement. As a result, it will not only create employment opportunities but also contribute to an increased national income and overall economic growth.
Afghanistan's geographical location, devoid of direct sea access, underscores the significance of establishing robust connections with regional and global nations. Consequently, the leadership of the Islamic Emirate has made a strategic decision to bolster trade relations through land-based networks. Among the various land transport options available, railways emerge as the most secure and cost-efficient alternative after maritime routes. To this end, the Islamic Emirate has embarked on endeavors to construct railways, facilitating transactions with neighboring countries. Remarkable progress has been achieved in this endeavor, evident in the reactivation of previously dormant or unfinished railway systems. An exemplary illustration of this success is the Hairatan-Mazar-e-Sharif and Aqeena railway, which transports massive quantities of goods on a daily basis. Additionally, the completion of the Khaf-Herat railway, connecting Iran to Afghanistan's Herat province, is on the horizon, with the infrastructure nearing its readiness for operational use. Looking ahead, the vision extends beyond this railway, with plans for the development of further railway networks in the future.