Turkmenistan angered by Tajik-Afghan rail deal

By bne IntelliNews February 3, 2014

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Turkmenistan's ministry of foreign affairs has issued an angry statement after Ashagabt was excluded from a key agreement on the route of the planned Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railway.

In a January 31 statement, the ministry "expresses its extreme concern and misunderstanding." The irate statement followed an announcement from the head of Tajik Railways, Amonullo Hukumatullo, who told journalists Dushanbe and Kabul have reached agreement on the route for the Afghan section of the line, which will link Tajikistan and Turkmenistan via Afghanistan.

Kabul has agreed to drop its preferred route in favour of an alternative route proposed by Tajikistan, the official said on January 28. The railway will now run from Kelif on the Turkmen-Afghan border to the Tajik town of Hoshadi, rather than Sher Khan Bandar on the Afghan-Tajik border, Hukumatullo said.

"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," Hukumatullo told journalists. Dushanbe has long claimed that Uzbek border and customs officials are deliberately holding up cargos on the only international railway into Tajikistan to put pressure on the Tajik government to drop plans for the Roghun dam.

However, Hukumatullo's statement has drawn fire from Turkmenistan, the third participant in the project, with the foreign ministry in Ashgabat complaining it was not included in the decision. "It is well known that, in accordance with international standards, harmonization of multilateral projects must be carried out on an equal footing and with mutual respect by all parties involved in their preparation and implementation," the statement says.

"The statement by the head of the Tajikistani state organisation on the harmonisation of the railway section with access to the Turkmen- Afghan border without the participation of Turkmenistan is biased and completely unacceptable to the Turkmen side," it continues. "In this regard, the Turkmen side expresses its strong protest and notes that such statements are counterproductive."

While all three countries have stood behind the project, the Turkmen government appeared the main driver in accelerating plans to build the 400-kilometre railway. The presidents of the three countries signed an agreement to build the line in March. Three months later, Turkmenistan hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for its stretch of the line, even though at that stage the route had not yet been finalised.

The Turkmen stretch of the line will run from Atamyrat in southeast Turkmenistan into Afghanistan, from where it will run east to Tajikistan. The Asian Development Bank has said it may finance the line, which is expected to bring economic benefits to all three countries.

Earlier in January, the project appeared to be progressing well, with Turkmen state television channel Altyn Asyr reporting that it would be completed by 2015 instead of late 2016 as originally planned. It is not clear whether the new dispute between Turkmenistan and the two other participants will hold up the project.

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