Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan

Islamabad Declaration

The delegates participating in the Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan having met in Islamabad on 13 – 14 May 2009:

Transport, Trade, Energy Cooperation, Agricultural Cooperation, Capacity Building and Education, Border Management, Health, Counter Narcotics and Refugee Return and Reintegration are areas with considerable scope for mutually beneficial regional cooperation.

Connectivity: Increased trade in the region will be facilitated by affording Afghanistan easy accessibility to the Sea, developing east-west and north-south corridors on the basis of mutual agreement, and further developing infrastructure links with Afghanistan and its neighbours.

Railway connection between Iran and Herat is already on going on the basis of a grant from the Government of Islamic Republic of Iran.

An 80 km railway link from Hairatan (on the Uzbekistan border) to Mazar-e-Sharif is considered a priority route for development. The planned link forms part of CAREC’s Transport and Trade Facilitation Strategy, and is in accordance with Afghanistan’s Railways Development Programme. The project will be developed with Asian Development Bank grant support.


4. High priority will be accorded, in terms of resource allocation and political commitment to the following set of practical short-term projects of benefit to Afghanistan and the region:
a. Concluding negotiations of the Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement before the end of 2009, as agreed earlier this month in Washington, DC.
b. Extension of rail link from Chaman to Kandahar.
c. In addition, the European Commission will conduct a pre-feasibility study of railways across Afghanistan linking major destinations within Afghanistan and its neigbours.

Read in full on the Ministry of Foreign Affairswebsite.

(thanks to Michael G Erickson for sending me a link)

Goods handling on the Chaman Extension Railway

At a model railway show I picked up a copy of Soldier with Railways, the autobiography of Tony Mains, a British railway enthusiast and army officer who travelled extensively in India. Mains was an intelligence officer in Iraq during World War II, and his book also describes various trips by rail from Basra to Turkey, Syria and Beruit.

The chapter describing his time in Baluchistan in 1944-46 gives a history of the railways to the Afghan border at Chaman in (what is now) Pakistan, and this description of traffic:

The station at Chaman was literally on the frontier, and near by were a number of sheds, which, rumour had it, contained the material to extend the line to Kandahar in the even of a fourth Afghan War. There was a heavy traffic in fruit brought by by lorry from Kandahar, and dispatched onward in ice bunkered wagons, necessitating a daily special good train. The supply of wagons was never adequate for the traffic offering, and the hubbub created by the arguments this engendered could be heard all over the cantonment. There is no doubt that the railway staff benefited greatly from this, and the story was current that the North Western Railway administration used to post a very senior Station Master to Chaman to enrich himself in his last year of service.
Soldier with Railways, by Lt Col A A Mains (Picton Publishing, 1994) pp101-102

Khojak tunnel circa 1905

The Chaman Extension Railway from Bostan Junction on the line through the Chapar Rift to Chaman on the Afghan frontier was opened 30 September 1891. The broad gauge line’s summit is at over 6000 ft, and the route passes through the Khojak tunnel through the Khwaja Amran range. The rails stopped 5 km beyond Chaman fort, and just 200 m short of the border with Afghanistan as fixed by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893.

A supply depot at Chaman contained the rails, sleepers and bridge parts which would be needed to extend the line the remaining 108 km to Kandahar in the event of a military emergency. Meanwhile the Russians were thought to be storing similar materials at Kushka to allow the rapid construction of a line to Herat if they thought there was an emergency!

I met with unbounded civility and hospitality from everybody in Quetta as well as at Chaman, our most north-westerly point on the Afghan boundary. For those who believe in the unpreparedness of England, it may be stated that, from this point, we could with ease lay a railroad to Kandahar in less than three weeks.
Across Coveted Lands, Or a Journey from Flushing (Holland) to Calcutta, Overland by A Henry Savage Landor (Macmillan & Co Ltd, 1902)

An extension of the Chaman line at least as far as Spin Boldak has often been proposed in subsequent years, but doesn’t seem to have made much progress.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are expected to enter in to a new trade and economic cooperation mechanism during the President of Pakistan first official visit to Afghanistan on January 7, 2009, official sources told Daily Times on Friday.

Extension of railway link between Chaman-Spin Boldak is expected to be deliberated in the visit as this issue was discussed in 2006 for establishing better communication and development of physical infrastructure, which will help in enhancing trade facilities between the two countries.
Source: President’s first official visit: Pakistan, Afghanistan to ink new trade agreements, Daily Times, 2008-12-27.

Kandahar rail plan revived Victorian idea

Afghanistan Railways: a dream coming true is an October 2004 article by S Azam Ali for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Availing of the second Afghan-British War, Russians stitched the great deserts of Central Asia with rail tracks. When the British came to know of the Russian success in the occupation of Marv in 1883, they reviewed and revived the Kandhar State Railway extension from Sibi to Quetta and Chaman.

A dream of the Kandhar Railway in the middle of the 19th century seems to be realized in the 21st century with the change of political scenario from the conflict to cooperation in this most sensitive region. This has become possible with practical move for the regional connectivity project to be undertaken jointly by Afghanistan and Pakistan for railway from Chaman (Pakistan) to Kandhar (Afghanistan) as one of the components of a compact and comprehensive rail road mega programme for 10-member countries in the ECO region.

Announcing a Rs3 billion package for Balochistan, through which the Pakistan Railways would penetrate into Afghanistan via Chaman-Kandhar rail route, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz added that paper work on the track had been completed. Work on it would begin soon. It would usher in, a new era for economic cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and eight other ECO-member countries in the field of train traffic for the region sprawling over an area of more than seven million sq kms.
Source: Dawn

Maglev to Kandahar?

Well, maybe not. That would just be silly. But today’s Pakistan Times reports that President General Pervez Musharraf on Saturday [2007-03-03] called for fast development of the Pakistan Railways on modern lines to provide economical travel to the people, swift movement of goods and to create linkages with neighbouring countries.

He said the current target of increasing speed of trains up to 140 km/hour was not enough. “Today the world is moving on to magnetic levitation trains and monorails for mass transport, we need to go for these,” he added.

The President referring to his vision for the Pakistan Railways spoke of plans to link Chamman to Kandahar in Afghanistan and to build an ambitious rail track from Havelian to the Khunjerab Pass to connect with the Chinese mainline.

“Both the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have expressed desire to join this rail link as it will provide them an access to the Gwadar Port,” he said.

Afghanistan May Build Its First International Rail Link in 2006

A 3 May 2005 news report from Marc Wolfensberger at Bloomberg

The government of Afghanistan plans to build its first international railway, linking the former Taliban stronghold city of Kandahar in the south, to Pakistan, said Public Works Minister Shorah Ali Safari.

Safari said in an interview today that he submitted a proposal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s cabinet 10 days ago and “hopes”‘ the project will be approved this year for construction to start in 2006. He didn’t elaborate on financing.

“Time has changed,”‘ said Safari, 60, speaking in the Iranian city of Mashad. “Trains are no longer used to invade countries — they’ll boost our economy and benefit our people.”‘

… Engineering studies on the planned Afghanistan railway — running 100 kilometers between Kandahar, the former base of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, to the Pakistani border town of Chamman — have been completed, the minister said.

Construction work should be “relatively easy”‘ since the track will cross “plain territory, with no mountains and thus no tunnels to be built,” Safari said. He declined to give a time for completion.

… Beyond Pakistan, Afghanistan has “ambitious”‘ plans to develop its railway network, said the minister, who taught engineering at Kabul University in the 1960s. Feasibility studies are under way for a rail link between the western city of Herat to Iran and Turkmenistan. Another project foresees a railtrack between the northwestern city of Mazar-I-sharif and Uzbekistan, he said.

… He didn’t give details about financing the projects. He said he hasn’t contacted international financial institutions such as the World Bank, nor international private lenders.