ASHGABAT: Asian neighbours Turkmenistan and Afghanistan opened the first section of a $2 billion link connecting their two countries by rail for the first time and set to extend to Tajikistan as part of the Lapis Lazuli corridor on November 28.
The line running 85 km from Atamyrat in Turkmenistan to the Ymamnazar border crossing point and 3 km onwards to Afghanistan’s border facilities at Akina was officially opened by Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani who ceremonially tightened a golden bolt.
A train pulling 46 freight cars completed the 3-kilometre journey from Turkmenistan’s Imamnazar customs point to Akina in Afghanistan.
Initial discussions for the railway project began in 2008, and a framework agreement was signed when Afghanistan’s then President Hamid Karzai visited Ashgabat in May 2011.
Afghanistan lacks indigenous capabilities for railway construction, and Turkmenistan agreed to take on responsibility for surveying, designing and constructing the entire route, with the section within Afghanistan to be considered as a donation to the country.
Construction was launched by the presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan with an elaborate ceremony in Atamyrat on June 5 2013.
Berdymukhamedov said in a speech that the project “is written in golden letters in the history of our brotherly nations.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked Turkmenistan for its support in promoting stability in his country.
He said Turkmenistan had given “the gift of trust in the future of Afghanistan”.
“In the past two years, the esteemed president of Turkmenistan decided to make investments of millions and billions of dollars in a stable Afghanistan,” he added.
Nevertheless, the project is weighed down with concerns about security in Afghanistan that prompted key backer the Asian Development Bank to suspend support for it last year.
Neither Tajikistan or Afghanistan have yet built their sections in the route.
Tajikistan has said it will not begin work on its own section while Afghanistan remains embroiled in some of the worst fighting the country has seen since the US-backed invasion began in 2001.
Should the link be completed, another Central Asian nation, Kyrgyzstan, and the region’s top trade partner China have both expressed interest in linking up to the railway in the future.