PANNIER: Kazakhstan helping to get wheels turning on Afghanistan railway projects

PANNIER: Kazakhstan helping to get wheels turning on Afghanistan railway projects
Kazakh Deputy PM Serik Zhumangarin has been in Afghanistan meeting with the Taliban in an effort at adding momentum to trade links and Trans-Afghan infrastructure plans. / Office of Prime Minister of Kazakhstan
By Bruce Pannier May 2, 2024

Taliban officials say it’s full speed ahead on plans for building railways across Afghanistan and Kazakhstan is on board for helping out with at least two projects.

Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangarin was in Afghanistan on April 24 meeting with Taliban officials to discuss trade relations. Zhumangarin stated that Kazakhstan was interested in participating in the construction of the Termez—Mazar-i-Sharif—Kabul—Peshawar (aka, the Trans-Afghan Railway) and Herat—Kandahar—Spin Boldak railway projects.

According to the deputy PM, Kazakhstan is prepared to supply materials for the railway tracks’ upper structures, including sleepers and fastenings.

Kazakhstan’s exports to Afghanistan by rail have increased by 14% since 2021 (the Taliban returned to power in August of that year) and in 2023 Kazakhstan shipped 2.7mn tonnes of goods to the country, of which 1.5mn tonnes were flour and grain, according to the Kazakh prime minister’s website.

Kazakhstan’s interest in Afghanistan’s  railways, though, goes beyond boosting trade with only Afghanistan.

Zhumangarin’s visit coincided with the Kazakh state railway company’s launching of efforts to establish a multimodal route running from Kazakhstan through Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) port of Jebel Ali. The Kazakhstan Temir Zholy railway company said delivery time would be 20-25 days.

On April 26, the Taliban’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry reported that there was also a meeting with Zhumangarin, Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Mammethan Chakyyev and acting Taliban Commerce and industry Minister Nooruddin Azizi.

Afghan media outlet Tolo News posted on X (formerly Twitter) that officials from the three countries discussed the construction of a large logistics centre in Afghanistan at Torghundi.

Torghundi is currently the terminus of a railway that runs from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is already planning to help build a 173-kilometre (108-mile) extension of this railway line to the Afghan city of Herat.

The line at Herat would connect not only to the proposed railway to Kandahar and Spin Boldak in which Kazakhstan is seeking to participate, but also to a railway line running from Khaf, Iran to Herat, which opened last year.

Unlocking Afghanistan as a significant international transit route would have major geoeconomic implications for multiple countries (Credit:

There have also been meetings about the Trans-Afghan line.

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Yodgor Shodmonov, said at the end of April that there had been meetings “in just the last two or three days” between Afghan and Uzbek transport officials to discuss the Trans-Afghan Railway.

Officials from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan have met many times during the last three years to discuss the construction of the approximately 600-kilometre (373-mile) line that would give Uzbekistan, as well as other Central Asian states and China, a route to Pakistan’s Arabian Sea ports.

Afghan officials say a feasibility study of the route will be completed by late July this year and presented to international investors.

Securing international investment presents a challenge to Afghanistan’s railway infrastructure ambitions given that the Taliban regime is under international sanctions.

Construction of the Trans-Afghan Railway is expected to cost some $5bn.

Qatar has shown interest in the project. Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev met with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on the sidelines of the April 15 Gulf Cooperation Council-Central Asia ministerial meeting in Tashkent to discuss the project.

The UAE has also hinted at its possible involvement and in February signed a memorandum of understanding for the feasibility study at a meeting of Afghan, Uzbek, Pakistani and UAE representatives in Tashkent.

Kazakhstan’s recent enthusiasm for taking part in the construction of the two Afghan railways, with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan already being involved, bodes well for the projects moving forward.

It is also another example of the growing cooperation seen between Central Asia and Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power nearly three years ago.