NEW DELHI: India will be invited to help with a key rail link in Afghanistan, during the visit of Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to New Delhi early next week, The Hindu reported on Thursday.
It also quoted an Uzbek presidential aide as eyeing an India-Pakistan rapprochement under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
The paper quoted a presidential aide as saying the proposed rail link of approximately 650km — connecting the Afghan cities of Mazaar-i-Sharif and Herat — which may later be extended to Kabul, is a major project agreed to by President Ashraf Ghani and President Mirziyoyev last year, and many of the preliminary surveys for the project have already been completed.
The Uzbek president will arrive in New Delhi on Sunday
“We support a greater presence of India in Central Asia, and hope for some benefits of that for Afghanistan. I hope that negotiations with PM Modi will open a new page in our bilateral relations,” Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs, Ilhom Nematov, told The Hindu during a visit to Delhi ahead of the president’s visit beginning on Sunday.
“If India would be involved in [the railway line] construction, we would welcome them because of India’s proven record and experience, and because of its contribution to bringing peace to Afghanistan,” he added, saying that Uzbekistan had an interest in open trade and connectivity routes “all the way to the Indian Ocean”.
The project, for which Uzbekistan has already committed $500 million, could become another major regional connectivity project for India, after its construction of the Zaranj-Delaram Highway in Afghanistan and the Shahid Beheshti port in Iran’s Chabahar, The Hindu said.
It said India is also committed to building another rail route, from Chabahar to Zahedan on the Iran-Afghan border, and President Mirziyoyev is keen to join the transit trade agreement signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.
The rail route to Herat, if extended to Kabul, would also link to India’s “air corridor”, allowing trade — especially dry fruits and agricultural produce — to travel along the routes from India to Central Asia and back in a much shorter time.
Uzbekistan has held talks with Iran, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and China, which is already running a rail route into Uzbekistan under the Belt and Road Initiative, for the same project in the past few months.
“Making a pitch for talks between India and Pakistan, Mr Nematov said Uzbekistan’s role in regional security is likely to grow as it will take over as secretary general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Jan 2019,” it said.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018