Will India and China eventually join hands for the Chinese funded BRI project which Delhi has been vehemently resisting? India has strong reservations about CPEC Project (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), but both nations are keen to collaborate on various other projects like Uzbekistan-Afghanistan rail route and other initiatives in Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran etc.
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Landlocked Uzbekistan is exploring access to sea-ports in the Persian Gulf through a transnational rail link via Afghanistan and Iran, and is soliciting collaboration from both the Asian powerhouses, China and India.
Amid reports that Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has invited India to join the railway project on his recent state visit to New Delhi, an Afghan government official, according to CGTN said Afghanistan welcomes both China and India for this venture which presents a tremendous opportunity for the two nations to collaborate in the war-torn region.
“This railway project is not only important for Uzbekistan and Afghanistan but also for both China and India. The rail link will heighten trade and transit through an economic corridor that will directly impact the security and prosperity of the region.
Connecting Afghanistan to Uzbekistan
In 2011, Uzbek state railway company, Ozbekiston Temir Yollari, constructed a small rail link connecting the Uzbek-Afghan border town of Hairatan with the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Uzbekistan now plans to extend the line to Herat in northwestern Afghanistan, which is considered as a gateway to Iran. Another rail link, already under construction, will connect Herat to Iran.
It is important to note that China is already running a rail route into Uzbekistan under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has also sent freight trains to Afghanistan’s Hairatan using the network. The railway line from China to Afghanistan, that runs through Uzbekistan, was inaugurated in September 2016.
Uzbekistan, which has so far committed 500 million US dollars for the 650-kilometre Mazar-e-Sharif-Herat railway project, has held talks with China and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for possible collaboration in the past few months.
Uzbekistan Keen For Indian Participation
Uzbekistan is now keen on getting India on board the railway project. “We support a greater presence of India in Central Asia and hope for some benefits of that for Afghanistan. I hope that negotiations with PM Modi will open a new page in our bilateral relations,” said a spokesman for Uzbek President to Indian media.
The Uzbek-Afghan railway link is of mutual interest for both China and India as it complements their regional connectivity plans in Central Asia. While it complements China’s BRI objectives in the region, the rail link is also seen as another major regional connectivity project for India after it constructed the Zaranj-Delaram Highway in Afghanistan and the Shahid Beheshti port in Chabahar, Iran.
India is also committed to building another rail route, from Chabahar to Zahedan on the Iran-Afghan border, and President Mirziyoyev is keen to join the transit trade agreement signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran.
Will India Join Chinese BRI?
The opportunity for China-India cooperation in the Uzbek-Afghan railway comes just weeks after India announced it would provide a corridor to China through its northeastern region to Bangladesh’s Chittagong port which would complement the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor, in the clearest sign yet of a strategic shift in New Delhi’s position on BRI-related connectivity projects. India also invited for the first time “limited Chinese investment” in the creation of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) sub-regional hub.
New Delhi has warmed up to the BRI following the informal Wuhan summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi in April. Immediately after the Wuhan meeting, it was announced that among other things, China and India agreed to undertake joint economic projects in Afghanistan. Other projects on India’s radar are the BCIM and a corridor linking China, Nepal and India.
“On the Belt and Road Initiative, India only objects to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but has no problem with the rest of the project. As long as both countries follow the consensus, I am optimistic about the bilateral relations between both the countries and also their collaboration at multilateral platforms,” said the expert.
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