WASHINGTON: At the inaugural meeting of a trilateral forum, the United States, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan reviewed projects that could bring prosperity to the entire region by linking South and Central Asia, said a joint statement issued on Thursday.

The projects discussed at the trilateral meeting on Wednesday included building railway links between Central Asia and Pakistan and a gas pipeline that goes all the way to India via Pakistan. All such links pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan and could only be built if there’s peace in Afghanistan and between the two neighbours.

As the first step towards regional prosperity, the three governments “encouraged the continuation of the Eid ceasefire and noted the necessity of Afghanistan not returning to pre-ceasefire levels of violence”.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale co-chaired the inaugural session via video teleconference as the coronavirus pandemic prevented a physical meeting. Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar, and Uzbekistan Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov represented their governments.

The participants discussed proposals for the construction of railways linking Uzbekistan with ports in Pakistan and beyond, in particular along the Mazar-i-Sharif-Herat-Bahramcha and Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Torkham routes.

They also reviewed the proposed 1,814 km Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline. The project began in 1995, when Turkmenistan and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding to bring natural gas from fields in Turkmenistan to South Asia. The situation in Afghanistan, however, stalled the project.

An official delegation from Uzbekistan, led by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, had visited Pakistan in November 2018. In his discussions with Pakistani officials, Mr Kamilov proposed building a railroad connection between the two countries that would pass through Afghanistan.

Proposals discussed at various international forums have explored various routes for connecting Pakistani ports with Central Asia. These include: The 1,658km Kushka (Turkmenistan)-Turghundi (Afghanistan)-Herat-Kandahar-Chaman and Karachi route; the 1,968km Termez (Uzbekistan)-Kabul-Kandahar-Chaman-Karachi route; the 2,318km Termez-Kabul-Peshawar-Karachi port route; the 3,517km Almaty (Kazakhstan)-Torogart (China)-Khunjerab-Gilgit-Rawalpindi-Karachi route; the 2,575km Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)-Badjigiran (Iran)-Zahedan-Taftan-Quetta-Karachi route and the 3,600km Baku (Azerbaijan)-Astara (Iran)-Zahedan-Taftan route.

The trilateral meeting also reviewed proposals for mitigating the consequences of Covid-19 on food security in the South and Central Asian regions.

The participants called on countries of the region to promote the Afghan peace process and to “support the goal of a durable political settlement preserving the gains of the past 18 years to end the war in that country,” said the joint statement.

They welcomed the conclusion of the May 17 political agreement to form an inclusive Afghan government and to create a High Council for National Reconciliation, hoping that both would move the peace process forward.

The participants also affirmed “the urgency of starting intra-Afghan negotiations to discuss a comprehensive ceasefire and a political roadmap for Afghanistan’s future”, the statement added.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2020

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