Ministry of Foreign Affairs Holds Seminar under the Theme of “One Belt and One Road”
Kabul – The Center for Strategic Studies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan held a one-day joint seminar with the cooperation of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China under the theme of “One Belt and One Road” chaired by the Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Hekmat Khalil Karzai with the participation of the Chinese Ambassador to Kabul and members of the Chinese Embassy, National Assembly members, researchers, Analysts, Faculty members, and Senior Official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.
Mr. Karzai stated in part of his speech: “The great Silk Road is a trade and cultural exchange route, connecting Asian, European, and African civilizations and an establishment and starting point for connection between East and West, which provides a great opportunity for exchanging science and knowledge, economy and trade, and accumulated thoughts in various parts of the world, and the value of this route’s economic, trade, cultural and political value for humanitarian development in this region has increased and become more significant in the 21st century.
Later on, the Chinese Ambassador, Mr. Yao Jing delivered his remarks on South Asia and Central Asia connectivity, economic significance of the Silk Road and Lapis Lazuli route in strengthening economy and ensuring regional peace and stability, regional economic and trade cooperation among Southern, Eastern, and Central Asian countries, raw material transfer, mining and untapped resources extraction in regional countries, and connecting countries through construction of roads and large highways.
Later on, University professor and head of ATRA, Mr. Najib Azizi, head of Center for Crisis and Peace Studies, Mr. Halimullah Kawsari, Director of Regional Cooperation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Whadidullah Waisi, former Minister of Information and Culture and Afghan-China Friendship Association head, Dr. Sayed Makhdum Rahin, and Parliament Member, Mrs. Nahid Farid delivered their remarks in this seminar respectively.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, Afghanistan, 8 May 2016
A preliminary agreement for developing the proposed China – Kyrgyzstan – Tajikistan – Afghanistan – Iran railway was signed in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 8-9 December 2014.1
The meeting was chaired by Tajikistan’s First Deputy Minister of Transport, Sherali Gançalzoda, and included representatives of the transport ministries and authorities of the five countries. The attendees were updated on the current state of the railways, development plans, and the steps needed to connect the rail networks.
The Ministry of Transport statement doesn’t give much background (and is Tajik), but media reports say the route of the proposed line was agreed. Some reports seem to have got the list of places to be served a bit backwards, but they suggest the line would run from Kashgar in China to Herat in Afghanistan, then run on to Iran – presumably using the Khaf to Herat line which is currently under construction.2
Launched the protocol of joining the 2100km railroad construction from China-Kyrgyz-Tajik-Iran through Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/Hs2wF5wRKd
— Wahid Waissi (@WahidWaissi) December 17, 2014
There is no mention of gauge in any of the reports. The former Soviet countries and the small amount of railway in Afghanistan use 1520 mm broad gauge, but Iran and China both use standard gauge, and China seems to like building railways to standard gauge even in metre/1067 mm gauge regions of Africa. There is also no mention of a commitment to funding.
Update: Wahid Waissi, Director-General of Economic Cooperation at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confirms “it would be 1435 but two months time given for Kyrgyz to decide.”5
Last month the presidents of Tajikistan and China met and discussed “the prospects of construction of railway China-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Persian Gulf”,6 and the Ministry of Finance of Tajikistan and Export-Import Bank of China signed an agreement on preferential credit for construction of the 40.7 km Vahdat – Yovon section of the Dushanbe – Qurghonteppa line by 2016. 7
- Ба имзорасии Протокол оид ба масъалаи пайтвастшавии роҳҳои оҳани Хитой – Қирғизистон – Тоҷикистон – Афғонистон – Эрон, Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Tajikistan, 9 December 2014 ↩
- Document on linking China’s railway to Iran signed in Dushanbe, Xinhua, 10 December 2014 ↩
- Document on defining rail route China-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan signed in Dushanbe, Payrav Chorshanbiyev, Asia Plus, 10 December 2014 ↩
- Iranian company submits primary reports on Tajik stretch of Kashgar-Heart railway to MoT, Payrav Chorshanbiyev, Asia Plus, 24 July 2012 ↩
- @WahidWaissi on Twitter, 22:55 17 December 2014 ↩
- President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon met with President of China Xi Jinping, Press service of President of Republic of Tajikistan, 7 November 2014 ↩
- Meeting with Chairman of Board of Directors of China Railway Construction Corporation Zhang Zongyan, Press service of President of Republic of Tajikistan, 7 November 2014 ↩
The April 2008 contract1 between the Afghan government and the MCC-Jianxi Copper Consortium (also known as MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Company2) for the construction of the copper mine at Mes Aynak has been leaked,3 enabling us to see what it really says about the proposed railway project.
Mes Aynak (meaning “little copper well” or similar) is in Logar province, around 35 km south of Kabul.
Part V section 30 (page 23) of the contract says that “MCC has made a commitment to the Government of Afghanistan to construct, at MCC’s sole expense, a railway associated with the project”. This commitment is “memorialized” in a memorandum of agreement forming appendix 7 (page 57-59), “which shall be adopted and incorporated into the Mining Contract as an enforceable part of this Mining Contract”.
As far as I can tell, the contract doesn’t set out much in the way of technical or route details for the railway. In fact, the parties acknowledge that at the time of the contract “the specific conditions and requirements for the route, construction and operation of the railway have not been definitively established”.
In October 2011 Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said the initial route had been determined the proevious year, and would run from Kabul to Torkham (on the Pakistan border near the Khyber Pass) and from Kabul to Mazar-i-Sharif via Ghorband, Bamyan and Naybabad. However MCC still needed to sign a contract with China Railway Co for a technical survey.4
It would seem that the mining contract agreement requires a feasibility study for the railway to be undertaken, but does not require that the line is built if this study comes out against it.
(Elsewhere, it has been suggested that a railway is not essential for the copper project, as road transport could be used. This is in contrast to the Hajigak iron ore mining schemes, where the volume of iron ore means that a railway would probably be the only viable transport option.)
The memorandum is binding and “shall form the basis of a definitive railway agreement to be negotiated and concluded by the Parties.” It commits MCC to “conduct reconnaissance (survey) and prepare a feasibility study according to the schedule provided in MCC’s August 16, 2007 letter.” The feasibility study will then be provided to the government for review. If the government disagrees with the conclusions of the study, it may retain an independent expert to review the study.
On completion of the study, and on “on the basis of the railway project being feasible“, MCC would arrange 100% of the finance for the railway and design and build it “on its own” under a build own operate transfer (BOOT) model. The government would use assist MCC in securing the land and route. MCC would be responsible for overall operation and management of the line.
The memorandum requires the parties to negotiate in good faith to conclude a railway agreement within 12 months of the effective date of the mining contract (the effective date is defined as 2 months from the date of the the signing of the contract and final approval by China’s National Development & Reform Commission and Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers). The parties agree that failure to conclude such an agreement within that timeframe shall constitute cause for the mining contract to be revoked.
Part XI section 47 c (page 35) deals with the compensation arrangements if the agreement required in section 30 (or various other sections covering other matters) is not reached.
Within the two years before the full recovery of MCC’s investment, the government would form an operating entity or a joint venture with MCC to study and formulate policies regarding the operation and management of the railway following its take-over by the government. MCC will provide free training on maintenance, operation and management of the railway.
The terms of the memorandum could be modified by agreement of the parties.
- Aynak Tender Process History, Ministry of Mines ↩
- Aynak Project Forges Ahead Despite Difficulties, MCC 21 November 2009 ↩
- Mining Contract for the Aynak Copper Deposit, 8 April 2008. ↩
- Technical research for Kabul-Mazar and Kabul-Torkham railways begins soon, Ministry of Mines. 17 Ocotber 2011, published 18 October 2011 ↩
The Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani has said Chinese copper mining concessionaire MCC should award contracts for surveying railway lines from Kabul to Torkham (on the Khyber Pass border with Pakistan), and from Kabul to Kabul to Ghorband, Bamiyan and Naibabad (for Mazar-i-Sharif and Hayratan).
I think “China Railway(s) Company” is China Railway Group, who undertook work on the Kabul – Jalalabad road.1 However there are a number of Chinese organisations with similar names which can be hard to untangle.
Technical research for Kabul-Mazir and Kabul-Torkham railways begins soon
According to Aynak Copper Project contract, MCC are required to extend the railways sub projects for transportation of copper. Accordingly a meeting took place between the relevant organizations at the Ministry of Mines to discuss the coordination and regular implementation, and, identifying routes for the railway tracks.
The Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani said at the meeting that the preliminary track – from Kabul to Torkham and from Kabul to Mazarisharif via Ghorband, Bamyan and Naybabad to Hairatan – of the railway was determined last year. Now it is necessary for MCC to sign a contract with a company for technical survey though a bidding process.
“The China Railway Company which is familiar with the territory of Afghanistan and have experience in constructing the Polikhomri-Shikhanbander and Kabul-Jalalabad roads, has been identified as being the winning company of the tender, and will begin the technical research for Kabul-Mazar and Kabul-Torkham railways” Said Mr. Shahrani
Mr. Shahrani believed that the creation of railways in Afghanistan is a complex undertaking and therefore there is need for an independent railways organization inside the government.
He stressed that the creations of most of railways are related to mining projects therefore for the time being all of railways projects will be related to the Ministry of Mines.
“These railways will not be limited to transportation of minerals, but will be used in different sectors like trading goods etc.” He said.
The exact expenditures of the project will be estimated after the technical research implemented by the China Railways Company.
Source: Ministry of Mines, dated 2011-10-17, published 2011-10-18
An interesting NBC article from 2009 discussing China’s involvement in Afghanistan, and the Aynak copper mine in particular.
In addition to setting up the copper production infrastructure, which includes a smelter, power generation station, coal mine and groundwater system, the Chinese joint venture is also building roads, Afghanistan’s first national railway, new homes for villagers who will be resettled from the immediate area of the mine, hospitals and schools.
Source: Resource-hungry China heads to Afghanistan, Adrienne Mong, NBC News, 2009-10-14
Zeitschrift der OSShD is a magazine published six times a year in German, Russian and Chinese versions by OSJD, the Organisation for Co-Operation between Railways. The 2/2011 (316) issue has an article (pp1-6) “Tadjik steel railway lines – conquering the mountain peaks” by Amonullo Hukumatullo, head of Tajikistan’s national railway Rohi Ohani Tojikiston. It gives an overview of the railway company, and includes some information about proposed rail links to Afghanistan.
A map accompanying the OSJD article shows a proposed railway from Kashgar (Kashi) in China to Afghanistan. From Kashgar the line runs though Sary-Taşh in Kyrgyzstan (from where a branch would run north to Osh), crossing the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border near Карамык (Karamyk), meeting the existing line from Душанбе (Dushanbe) at Иляк (Ilyak?) a short distance southeast of Ваҳдат (Vakhdat), then running to Яван (Yavan?), and onwards over a line which is currently under construction1 to reach Курган-Тюбе (Kurgan-Tyube, and countless other romanisations).
Leaving the existing Uzbekistan to Kurgan-Tyube line at Джалоліддіна Румі (Jaloliddina Rumi) a new 59 km line costing USD73.2m will run to the Tajik border post at Нижний Пяндж (Nizhniy Panj, which is the Russian name; it’s Панҷи Поён (Panji Poyon) in Tajik).
(There was once a 750 mm gauge line on this section of the route, built in 1929-31 and opened in early 1932 but closed in the 1990s.2 In 2007 a road bridge was opened over the river Amu or Panj Darya which forms the Tajik-Afghan border, called – inevitably – the “Bridge to Friendship”.)3
The map shows the railway entering Afghanistan at Shirkhan Bandar, and continuing to Kunduz. From Kunduz proposed lines are shown running south to Kabul and the Khyber Pass, with a spur to Aynak for the mine, and also west along the northern corridor to Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Iran.
There are the usual comments in the article about transit traffic, and how a line though Afghanistan would would mean [insert name]-stan would not have not send traffic though [next door]-stan in order to reach Iran. Tajikistan currently has three sections of railway, but they run east-west and are not interconnected with each other except through Uzbekistan, and there have been claims that Uzbekistan has been delaying Tajikistan-bound traffic.
The magazine article also discusses the gauge problem, coming down in favour of 1435 mm standard gauge for the China – Iran route, rather than the 1520 mm of the existing lines Tajikistan.
Here is a rough attempt at plotting the places in question on a map.
View China – Tajikistan – Afghanistan railway in a larger map
This posting is based on the German version of the OSJD magazine, because I can read a little German. However the place names in the magazine have gone from Cyrillic (and probably Russian rather than Tajik) to German romanisation, though the map itself is in Cyrillic. While I have tried to sanitise the names, they have possibly got mangled en route. No offence is intended if your favourite spelling has been missed! It doesn’t help that some places have changed their names over the years – while it’s perhaps no surprise that Stalinabad has disappeared from the map (it is now Dushanbe), it is less obvious that Kolkhozobod became Jaloliddina Rumi in 2007, in honour of a C13th poet.
Tajikistan is a bit of an information black hole – I can’t even find many photos of trains there, or an official railway website.
Back in January 2011, Hukumatullo told a news conference that more than 160 000 tons of freight were shipped to Afghanistan via Tajikistan in 2010:
Since there is now direct rail link connecting Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the cargo was transported from the Tajik railroad station Kolkhozobod to the Afghan settlement of Sherkhan Bandar by vehicles.4 I suspect now should read no, and vehicles means road vehicles.
- Tajikistan: Rail Link to Afghanistan under Construction, 19 March 2009, www.EurasiaNet.org ↩
- Road vs. Rail. A Note on Transport Development in Tadzhikistan, MV Hambly, Soviet Studies Vol. 19, No. 3 (Jan., 1968), pp. 421-425, Taylor & Francis Ltd ↩
- News: Afghanistan, Tajikistan dedicate ‘Bridge to Friendship’, 3 September 2007, Combined Joint Task Force – 82 PAO, DVIDS ↩
- More than 160,000 tons of cargo shipped to Afghanistan via Tajik territory, 20 January 2011, Payrav Corshanbiyev, ASIA-Plus news agency, Dushanbe ↩
Statement by Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the 19th Session of the ECO Council of Ministers- in Istanbul on 22 December 2010:
As H.E. President Karzai stated in his important speech in the Kabul Conference of July 20th this year, Afghanistan in the future will be the nexus of regional economic cooperation and we are committed to share the benefits of Afghanistan’s centrality with our neighbors and countries in the region particularly the ECO member states to increase transit of goods and energy as well as movement of people within our region.
Our national road and railway programs have been precisely designed to serve this important vision of Afghanistan for regional cooperation.
It was in September this year that the ECO Truck Caravan passed along some of the newly built regional, national and provincial roads across the northern Afghanistan which is clearly indicative of the progress made in the implementation of our National Road Program.
Moreover, considerable progress has been made on the extension of regional railways to Afghanistan and through Afghanistan to other countries including the railway route from China along Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan to Afghanistan, and through Afghanistan to Iran, Turkey and Europe.
In this connection, I am pleased to refer to the construction of the Hiratan – Mazar-e-Sharif railway which will be completed in the next few weeks; the ongoing construction of the Sangan-Herat railway and the ongoing preparation of the pre-feasibility study report for the Kandahar- Chaman railway.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, 2010-12-25
This looks potentially significant, although the words
if feasible are probably quite important. I will try to study the announcement in more detail later this week.
MINISTER SHAHRANI SIGNS HISTORIC RAILWAY AGREEMENT
Kabul: September 22, 2010
Mines Minister Wahidullah Shahrani today signed an historic agreement with the China Metallurgical Company (MCC) for a railway to connect Kabul to Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
This northern railway project is part of the Aynak Copper Mine Contract, signed between the Government and MCC. The contract specifies that MCC constructs a railway, if feasible, from northern Pakistan through Kabul to southern Uzbekistan. This rail link will connect Afghanistan to the railways of Pakistan, India, and South East Asia and to the extensive rail system of China, Europe and Central Asia.
Minister Shahrani said, ‘When complete, the railways will give substantial benefits for the Afghan economy in trade, employment and cheaper prices. This northern railway is part of a wider plan to extend the Afghan rail network to connect Afghanistan to ports in Iran and Pakistan.’
The next step is for MCC to commission and fund a competitive tender for a feasibility study to examine the preferred route proposed by the Government’s Inter-Ministerial Railway Committee. It will take up to two years for the detailed route study and another six months to complete the full feasibility study.
The feasibility of the second part of the railway, from Kabul through Bamyan, Doshe, Kunduse, Niadabob, Hairetan and on to Uzbekistan, will be studied for an additional 18 months with construction to follow.
MCC will build the railway according to the ‘BOOT’ principle – ‘Build, Own, Operate and Transfer’. MCC will own the railway until it has recovered its capital costs through collecting transport fees. The details of the BOOT Agreement will be negotiated once the Government have approved the feasibility study prepared by a independent contractor funded by MCC.
The railway will be designed to have the size and capacity to carry the heaviest of loads – copper cathodes, copper concentrates, and commercial goods for transit, agricultural products, passengers and normal freight.
MCC will employ Afghan labor as much as possible in the construction and operation of the railway. Prior to the transfer of ownership to the Government, MCC will complete a training program for Afghan workers to operate the railway. The training will range from
basic functions to high level executive management.
Estimated costs for the entire railway range from US $ 4 –5 billion. Completion of the entire route could be within five years from starting the detailed route survey.
The opening the new railway will bring many benefits to Afghanistan. Costs of goods and services will fall due to lower transportation costs. Huge economic and social development opportunities will arise along the rail route as companies switch from road to rail transport. The mining and extractive industries will become more cost effective along the resource corridor developed with the railway.
Source: Ministry of Mines, 2010-09-22
Afghanistan in China’s Emerging Eurasian Transport Corridor, China Brief Volume: 10 Issue: 14, July 9 2010, by Richard Weitz. “In the case of railroad construction, the PRC brings several distinct advantages to this endeavor…”
“75km Railway to be Completed in Afghanistan”, reported TOLOnews on 2 August 2010. Work is “50 percent completed”, and there is a new opening date:
“I hope the construction of this rail-road will be completed by the end of March, 2011,” said the Minister of Public Works, Abdul Qudoos Hamidi.
There is also this hint at something much bigger in the pipeline:
The ministry also adds that the Afghan government is planning to build 700km rail-road that will connect the capital Kabul with the northern province of Kunduz and the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The railway will be built by the MCC Chinese Company.
“The primary studies of this rail-road have already started, and its contract will be signed soon,” said Deputy Minister of Public Works, Ahmad Shah Wahid.
Source: TOLOnews, 2010-08-02
MCC is presumably China Metallurgical Group Corporation (rather than the other MCC). The Chinese group was selected for a concession to develop the Aynak copper deposits in 2007, with a railway proposed as part of the project.
The plan which seems to be firming up is to build a new north-south railway starting from Tajikistan. There would be a new line from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, to the Tajik-Afghan border near Kunduz. The route would then run through Afghanistan from Kunduz to Kabul and the Aynak mining area, continuing on to Jalalabad. There would then be an onward link to the Pakistan Railways network, joining the line through the Khyber Pass to access to Pakistan’s coast.
Pakistan keeps talking about reinstating the out-of-action Khyber Pass line and extending it to Torkham (the Afghan border town) and possibly Jalalabad (the first major town in Afghanistan). However Pakistan Railways is reported to be facing serious financial and structural problems at present.
And as a correspondent points out, “railroads are built with money, not signed agreements to build railroads”.