Afghanistan transit opportunities session that was held on 20th January, 2020 in Davos was mostly about containers, river, railways, roads in this region. The session started with the speech of Mustafa Mastoor, Minister of Economy, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The country has no access to Caspian Sea, but Afghanistan has good transit relations with its neighboring countries such as Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The minister mentions that a week point of the country is air transportation, and he wants to pay more attention to it. The vision of the country is to become a bridge to other countries in the region. Another important aspect is regional collectivity, so the country has strong support from partners. As for the regional transportation by trucks, Mustafa Mastoor indicates that there are a lot of points to be improved such as railway system which earlier even did not exist. Nowadays the country's aim is 2 corridors such as East-West corridor and Middle corridor. Many neighboring and European countries with their financial institutions help Afghanistan to develop road system of appropriate level.
It was stated that up to 2008 there was no railway connection in the country. The first line with the length of 75km was held to Uzbekistan. There are so many projects in this sphere now and it takes time to turn them to life. Now there are small parts of railway to Iran and Turkmenistan, however it is essentially to make railway connection with other countries. Railway gauge is the problem that arose in the country. There are three different standards of it such as Pakistan-Indian, Soviet, and European ones. For Afghanistan it is a big challenge which one to choose and how to connect all three.
Speaking about air transportation, the country has already developed air corridor for transportation of goods and passengers. However, it is still not good enough comparing to European countries. The aim is to provide air transportation not only in one country but also between the regions.
Baber Badat Sb, Immediate Past President, FIATA, Zurich, Switzerland is an expert in logistics potential, know difficulties of the region. He presents FIATA-largest logistic organization of transportation that is very imperative in conflict zones. "Corridor diplomacy" is a new term in Caspian region, which needs to be learned speaking about transit policy in Afghanistan. FIATA works hard on promotion of trade, well-being people and prosperity of people-all these aspects are of great importance. Large Railway projects such as CPEC spent 7.3billion dollars for connection borders in the south to the borders in the North. It is aimed at using multimodal transportation while delivery goods from different countries through Afghanistan. Baber Badat Sb claims that trucking industry has developed a lot recently as well.
Vladimir Kotenev, Former Ambassador of the Russian Federation is a specialist in this area. He starts his speech highlighting important aspects for the whole region such as national peace and stability which are the base for economic relations, international transition and transportation as well. Afghanistan-Switzerland and Europe relations are the important logistic point. Speaking about regional security, it can be reached mutually with neighbors. Afghanistan can benefit from many international organizations such as BRIX by having close cooperation. They can combine projects, investments, Chinese initiatives in transit, railways and implement them. As for transportation corridors, there Former Ambassador points to Russia. The country had experience in building railway in hard conditions, thus it can help the whole Caspian Region. Moreover during the session speaker discussed North-South corridors from Baltic Sea to Iran. In his opinion roads, railways, highways-all combinations of multimodal transportation should be used there.
Sham Lal Bathija, Minister Senior Economic Adviser, Ambassador and Special Envoy of the Former President of Afghanistan.He claims that Pakistan is the most efficient way for Afghanistan for trade.
A lot of things have been discussed on policy level, regional cooperation level, intergovernmental level and the next step is to make it happen. Now air corridor should be made. It is a corridor that could connect 4-5 South countries together with Afghanistan. Also the country needs to investigate potential shipping line through Amur river. Corridor diplomacy integration should be the next step to be made where land countries would come together and share their ideas. Human diplomacy is another significant point must be noted in transit context. Global international instruments that exist nowadays should be used efficiently to benefit from too.
Khan Agha Rezayee, Member of Parliament, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Nowadays the country has achieved a lot since 2001. Problems with trading and transit through Pakistan side that lasted long time made the country find other ways and corridors. There are a lot of opportunities inside Afghanistan and he thinks that Afghanistan could become an important hub and major economic route in Central Asia. Although two countries had misunderstandings and strain in relations, Sham Lal Bathija added that there were good times as well.
Zabihullah Ziarmal, First Vice Chairman, International Chamber of Commerce, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (ICC-Afghanistan) started his speech with a flashback to the meeting in Tashkent where the participants discussed whether Afghanistan is a part of the Central Asia or the South Asia. They came to the conclusion that Afghanistan is a connecting bridge located in the crossroad of central Asia, South Asia and Middle East. The country is indeed very important in this region. Energy projects create regional ties and integration that help countries keep peace and stability. The country faced lots of problems such as governmental restrictions, that made it find other ways to be connected to the world. To support it Zabihullah Ziarmal gave a real example of difficulties that were faced while delivering containers from USA to Afghanistan. The initiatives and policies of inner trading among extended Caspian region demands great attention to create and promote interconnectivity between neighbors. Countries in this region need to have bilateral and multilateral investment agreements. Insecurity in Afghanistan is treated as a challenge on the one hand, and as a bunch of opportunities from the other hand. One of the challenges they face is the access to financing since the country does not have investment bonds and capital markets inside. He believes that the Government of Afghanistan should be responsible to create facilities to attract foreign investments. All in all, economic growth and sustainability depend on the development of inclusive regional infrastructural projects in the region such as ports, railways, free economic and trade zones, customs houses, airports, pipelines, and others. So,nowadays infrastructural projects in the region lack in financing. As an example, Vice Chairman talks about is the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation which covers six regional corridor projects. it is stated that it needs about 76.8 billion dollars per year to complete the project which is almost impossible for the region. But due to lack of efficient legal frameworks and policy of Afghanistan government, infrastructural projects are financed from public sector such International institutions, IFC, world banks etc. There are some initiatives of Afghan private sector that are taken solely with minimum support from government such as the World Trade Center and Foreign Country Afghanistan business Councill.
Abdullah Khenjani, Founder, Democratic Society Think-Tank, Kabul, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. He gave a sorrowful example from his life that shows that knowledge and understanding of the region is a significant condition not to be treated by stereotypes. Despite insecurities in the country there is still a high margin of profit for the companies. High risk should be calculated based on high level of gain. Abdullah Khenjani noted that unfortunately, due to US presence in the country Afghanistan is not treated as an independent country by others that leads to missing opportunities for the country. The country need to build the foundation for sustainable development in the region. There are both lots of businessmen there and opportunities for successful partnerships and collaboration.
The speakers answering the audience's questions mention that all these initiatives, projects are not just about money, they are about people first. The situation has changed a lot since 2001. Human rights, women rights, society, anti-terrorist groups are of governments control now. One of the main achievements is the human capacity. The country managed to start everything from the scratch after the war receiving help from private sector. Great contribution is made to development of educational institutes throughout the country.