Iran is in talks with Taliban to resume rail project connecting parts of Central Asia

Mar 9, 2022: According to a report by Al Jazeera citing an Iranian official, Iran is holding talks with the Taliban to resume construction of an ambitious rail project that ultimately aims to connect at least five Central Asian countries.

Iranian transit official Abbas Khatibi says the country is ready to make further investments and both sides are willing to finish construction on a rail line connecting Khaf in northeastern Iran with Herat in northwestern Afghanistan.

“This rail line can also link Afghanistan with Iran’s southern ports,” he said, adding that when fully complete, the project could eventually carve a path linking China to Turkey.

The railway line has the potential to boost trade and reduce transit costs according to Khatibi, who is deputy head of the Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructures Company of Iran.

Khatibi said a 657km track in Afghanistan between Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif is currently the biggest “missing link” in the overall project, and if completed, it would signal a major transformation in regional transit.

The project is part of a proposed $2 billion Five Nations Railway Corridor (FNRC) that will run approximately 2,000 kilometers through China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran. More than half of the project is proposed for Afghanistan, which runs through several provinces, including Kunduz and Herat. The first section of the four-section Khaf-Herat Railway was inaugurated in December 2020, connecting Khaf with the Afghan town of Rozanak, about 150 km away.

Khatibi says the Khaf-Herat project is estimated to cost 4.3 trillion rials, and that Iran has made proposals with “various investment methods” without further elaborating.

The plans to complete the line and expand its reach to Afghanistan’s third-largest city of Herat were thrown off course when the former Afghan government collapsed amid a chaotic exit by the United States and Western forces in August.

Iran has been Afghanistan’s largest trading partner in recent years and a major supplier of fuel to its eastern neighbor. But Iran has not yet formally recognized the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, and President Ibrahim Raisi’s administration says it will rely on the formation of a “comprehensive” government in Afghanistan.

A 26-member Taliban delegation visited Iran last month, they did not comment on the proposed railway project.

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