Bringing goods over land from far away, the
train is a common sight in many Asian countries. But due to war, poverty and the fear of invasion
the age of the railway passed Afghanistan by. Until today.
A modest seventy-five kilometers of track is enough to connect the neighbouring country
of Uzbekistan with Afghanistan, passing over the Soviet constructed “friendship bridge”
on the river Amu and passing through the river port of Hairatan.
Completed in less than a year in late 2010, the cargo line has been a team effort. Built
by Uzbeks, funded by the Asian Development bank and facilitated by Afghans.
“Ninety people, including the deputy of railway of Uzbekistan, who’s now the governor
of Arqaam, came here and we provided them a base and security. We also cleared the area
from mines. If we weren’t working hard on this we could have lost this huge achievement.”
For a land-locked country like Afghanistan, a blossoming economy depends heavily on import
and export, which relies for the main part on huge convoys of trucks going in and out
of the country. As well as huge delays at customs stations, these convoys are also vulnerable
to attack. As the carriages are sealed at origin, the
train doesn’t need to be checked by customs, making it much quicker. Haji Najeeb is also
proud of the security his town has provided to their new technology.
“Discipline and security like we have here, you won’t find in 364 districts of Afghanistan.
At night people’s doors are open; our businessmen come and go by night or day without any anxiety.
They load, unload and transfer their goods.” The train’s terminus is the historic city
of Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of the border province of Balkh, but ambitions for Afghanistan’s
railways stretch much further. After three years of training, Uzbekistan
will hand over control to the newly created Afghan Railyway Department to preside over
plans to extend the railway lines west through Herat to Iran and east through gate of Torkham
to Pakistan. And although the train is strictly cargo-only
for now, there have been a few passengers already. “Recently the chief of railways in Uzbekistan
visited and I personally went with him in train until Mazar airport. The construction
work in one hundred per cent finished without any problems. It’s ready for use, so now we’re
just waiting for the Afghan authorities to open it officially.” And perhaps it’s not too hard to imagine that
this new transcontinental cargo silk road will one day connect Afghanistan beyond its
neighbours and to the rest of the world. This is Ruth Owen, in Afghanistan, for the