Iran in talks with Taliban to resume ambitious rail project | News

The Khaf-Herat link is expected to boost trade and travel between Iran and Afghanistan.

Tehran, Iran – Iran is in talks with the Taliban to resume construction of an ambitious rail project that ultimately aims to link at least five Central Asian countries, according to an Iranian official.

Iran is ready to make new investments and both sides are ready to complete the construction of a railway line linking Khaf in northeastern Iran to Herat in northwestern Afghanistan, according to the Iranian transit official Abbas Khatibi.

Khatibi, deputy director of Iran’s Transport Infrastructure Construction and Development Company, was quoted by the Tasnim news site as saying the project could boost trade and reduce transit costs.

“This rail line can also connect Afghanistan to ports in southern Iran,” he said, adding that once completed, the project could eventually lay a route from China to Turkey.

The project is part of a $2 billion Five Nations Rail Corridor (FNRC) project that would cross China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Iran over an estimated distance of 2,000 km (1 242 miles).

More than half of the project is proposed for Afghanistan, crossing several provinces, including Kunduz and Herat.

The first section of the four-part Khaf-Herat railway was inaugurated in December 2020 and linked Khaf to the Afghan town of Rozanak about 150 km (93 miles).

Delayed plans

But plans to complete the line and extend its reach to Afghanistan’s third-largest city, Herat, were sidetracked when the former Afghan government collapsed amid a chaotic exit by US and Western forces. in August.

Khatibi, the Iranian official, said that the Khaf-Herat project is estimated at 4.3 trillion rials (about $17 million) and that Iran has made proposals with “various investment methods” without more than details.

He also said the railway line – which stretches 225 km, including 77 km in Iran – would have the capacity to carry up to one million passengers and six million tonnes of cargo each year.

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

Iran has been Afghanistan’s biggest trading partner in recent years and is a key fuel supplier to its eastern neighbor.

But Iran has yet to officially recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, with President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration saying that would depend on the formation of an “inclusive” government in Afghanistan.

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

The Taliban have called on the international community to recognize its so-called Islamic emirate as it faces diplomatic isolation. Western sanctions mean the country has been cut off from international financial institutions and aid has dipped to a trickle in a country where more than half the population faces food insecurity.

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