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Trade routes to CAR            

There are several road links between Pakistan and Central Asia and Pakistan is trying to improve and upgrade these links

By Azhar J. Durani
Aug  20 - 26 , 2001

Pakistan due its geographical location, provides the shortest routes from Central Asian Republics (CARs) to the ports located on the Arabian Sea. With the breakup of former Soviet Union, Central Asian Republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are facing acute problem of export and import because they have no outlet for exporting their surplus items to the countries of Middle East, South East, Far East and Asia Pacific Region.

During 1991, Kazakhistan, Trukmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan exported goods of value 1.5 billion dollars and their imports were more than 2 billion dollars. Over 90 per cent trade was directed towards the countries, which were members of Soviet Union. However, with the breakup of Soviet Union, the trade within the Union has decreased and these Republics have to export goods, which were previously consumed by Russia. Same is the case of imports, Russia due to its poor economic condition is not in a position to export. The result is that the CARs countries have to import from countries other than Russia. The nearest sea ports for CARs are either in Pakistan or in Iran. However, the routes passing through Pakistan are comparatively shorter and thus more attractive for bulk of the transit trade.

There are several road links between Pakistan and Central Asia and Pakistan is trying to improve and upgrade these links. The shortest and most appropriate route to Central Asian Republics is through Afghanistan, but due to the present unstable political situation in this region this route has become unsafe and non-reliable. Therefore we have to find some other routes as soon as possible in order to solve the transportation problems, because due to this problem Pakistan has already suffered huge losses in trade and business with CARs. Suggested few routes, which are as under:

1) The Karakoram Highway, which links Pakistan with China is another link to Central Asia. Karakoram Highway is hilly road and need improvement for use by the heavy traffic.

2) Other routes from CAR to open sea pass through Iran. Bandar Abbas is about 5300 KM away from Almaty, a main business and commercial city of Kazakhistan and Tashkent the capital of Uzbekistan is over 4800 KM from Bandar Abbas. The length of routes through Pakistan ranges between 3000 KM to 3700 KM.

3) Another route, which can be suggested is Karachi - Quetta - Zahedan - Mashad - Ashkhabad. This route provides the shortest link from Central Asian Republics of Kazakhistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to Karachi Port.

Routes through Afghanistan provided the peace and political stability is maintained in this region

The shortest and most appropriate route to Central Asia is through Afghanistan, but as already mentioned that due to the unstable political situation in this country this route has become unsafe and unreliable. To solve this problem it is suggested to Government of Pakistan the following proposal, which is as under.

The Government of Pakistan on its initiative should organize a conference between CARs, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Objectives of Conference are:

a) All the countries must sign an accord which states that for the economic development and prosperity of the member states, the Government of all the states must guarantee the safety of goods being transported through their territory.

b) All the member states must initiate a pre feasibility study to determine the traffic potential and assess the economic viability of the project.

c) To assess how much investment is required for construction of Trade routes (Road & Rail) in the region, and source of financing the project.

d) An expert delegation from member states should visit Afghanistan to see the possibilities of constructing rail link from Chaman (Pakistan) to Kushka (Turkmenistan) via Kandhar and Herat in Afghanistan.

e) After signing the accord, if the Government replaced in any of the member states then the new government must bare the responsibility to abide the accord.

If such an agreement comes in to force then the following routes can be suggested through Afghanistan.

i) A road link from Karachi - Lahore - Peshawar - Torkham. Work on this route (1476 KM) was completed in June 1996 remaining length of about 1215 KM is yet to be completed. Present Government can complete the remaining length on its initiative.

ii) Karachi - Khuzdar - Quetta Chaman, highway provides the shortest link from Central Asian Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan to Karachi Port.

iii) In Afghanistan, Kandahar - Herat - Torghundi, route (800 KM) requires improvement. This road has rigid pavement which, has developed wide cracks and needs immediate repairs.

Rail link: The shortest and most appropriate link to Central Asia is to extend Pakistan Railway network to connect with the rail network of Central Asian Republics by providing a Rail Link 800 KM length from Chaman. (Pakistan) to Kushka (Turkmenistan) via Kandhar and Herat in Afghanistan. Construction of this rail link will provide access to Turkmenistan from the Seaport at Karachi which is situated a distance of about 1600 KM from the existing border rail head in Turkmenistan at Khushka / Torghundi. The. project is estimated to cost nearly US $ 800 million.

The CARs have integrated railway network, which is further connected to the Russian Federation and is being extended from Kazakhistan to China. Once the proposed Rail Link is constructed it will provide transportation facilities not only to the Central Asian Republics but also to Russian Federation and China.

According to a recent survey, the transportation of goods from Pakistan to Central Asian Republics is from $250 to $300 per ton. This high transportation cost is because the goods will be taken to Central Asian Republics via Iran and the distance is approx. 5400 KM. If we utilize the Kandhar - Herat - Torghundi route, which is approx. 2000 KM, then the cost will reduce up to 50 per cent as well as time.

Export surplus of cotton, petroleum products, cotton, wheat and iron ore etc. are expected to be transported by rail from the Central Asian Republics. The annual production of cotton in Turkmenistan is 1.4 million tonnes whereas it is about 4 million tonnes in Uzbekistan.