Dispute over revised Turkmenistan – Tajikistan railway plan

An agreement between Tajikistan and Afghanistan could see the planned railway between the three countries take a shorter route – but Turkmenistan isn’t happy about this.

The head of Tajik Railways, Amonullo Hukumatullo, reportedly told journalists on 28 January 2014 that Afghanistan had agreed to drop its preferred route via Shirkhan Bandar in favour of an alternative route proposed by Tajikistan which would run from Kelif on the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border to Hoshadi in Tajikistan.1

Business New Europe quotes Hukumatullo as saying “The Afghan delegation agreed to compromise after we explained how important the new railway is to Tajikistan, which is currently experiencing great difficulties due to the blockade of goods by Uzbekistan”.

Kelif (Келиф) has little in the way of an internet presence but seems to be situated in Turkmenistan on the north bank of the Amu Darya river which forms the Turkmenistan/Afghanistan border. It is close to the Uzbek border, on the railway from Turkmenistan to Termez.

Hoshadi (Хошади, Khoshady, etc) has even less of an online footprint. Maps are inconsistent, but it appears to be somewhere near Shaartuz (Шаартузском) on the Tajik side of the Tajik/Uzbek border on the railway to Qurghonteppa (which has countless other spellings).

View Kelif – Hoshadi railway proposal in a larger map

There have been previous proposals for the planned new line from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to head more directly for the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border rather than go via Shirkhan Bandar, but it looks rather like this latest proposal is basically a bypass to enable traffic to reach Tajikistan without transiting Uzbekistan, rather than an attempt to serve northern Afghanistan in its own right.

RIA Novosti quotes Hukumatullo as saying the revised route would be a bit over 200 km long. Tajikistan would be able to avoid paying high fees to Uzbekistan and risking transit problems, while Afghanistan would receive income from transit traffic. The annual volume of freight is given as 5 million tonnes.2

However, Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not happy with the change of plan, and has issued a press release (my emphasis):3

On January 29, 2014 in the article of the Russian information agency “RIA Novosti” with reference to the head of the state enterprise “Tajik Railways” Amonullo Hukumatullo it was published the information on agreement reached between Dushanbe and Kabul concerning the alternative route of Afghan railway section Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan proposed by the Tajik side. In this regard, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan expresses its extreme concern and misunderstanding related to the statement of the Tajik official. It is known that, in accordance with the international standards, the coordination of the multilateral projects is conducted on the principles of mutual respect and equality of all parties involved in their preparation and implementation. Statement of the head of the state structure of Tajikistan on coordination of the railway section with access to the Turkmen-Afghan border without the participation of Turkmenistan is tendentious and absolutely unacceptable for the Turkmen side. In this regard, the Turkmen side expresses its strong protest and notes that such kind of statements have counterproductive character.
Source: Press release for mass media, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkmenistan’s 31 January 2014