The Five Nation Railway Corridor (FNRC) Project is a 2100 km long railway line project which will connect Iran and China while traversing 3 more nations – Kyrgyzstan,Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Around 1148 km of the line will be covering many Afghanistan’s provinces. The project estimate currently exceeds US$ 2 billion and the Afghan part of the line will be funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The initial agreement for this project was signed in December 2014 , after which the technical and economic assessments for the implementation started. This project is heralded as a turning point in raising the economic growth of the partner as well as the nearby nations.
Photo Courtesy: Railway Pro
The Bigger Picture
This railway line will enhance the transport capacity, trade expansion, and tourism ties among the countries. It will create a path for connecting Central Asian countries to Europe via Turkey and Iran. The cost of cargo through this line will be reduced due to decrease in the distance of the route. Moreover this link would provide Afghanistan an access to the Iranian seaports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas. Similarly Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan can be less reliable on their neighbours Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia for political reasons and for export routes. The Khaf-Herat railway line between Iran and Afghanistan is a part of the FNRC project and it was inaugurated in December 2020. Leaders of both the countries considered it as a major step in strengthening the relations between them as it will boost travel and trade between them.
China’s Growing Presence
The FNRC project has been a part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision. Afghanistan has a reserve of several earths and minerals and over the past two decades, China has cracked several mining contracts and supported various developments in the country. China has engaged earlier with the Taliban in 2019 and after it took over Afghanistan in August ‘21, China is looking forward to strengthening its trade ties with the country.
Belt and Road Initiative map (Duchâtel & Sheldon-Duplaix, 2018)
Concern for India
India has been against the OBOR vision due to lack of clarity of the project. Considering the ongoing tensions between India and China, India should implement better connectivity plans with Afghanistan, similar to the one with Chabahar port. The International North- South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which is a multi-mode network connecting India with Iran, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe is a great opportunity for India to have greater influence in the region.
The expectations and stakes involved in this project are higher but the lack in funds and resources is causing delay in its implementation. Through FNRC, Afghanistan would be able to overcome the economic challenges of the country, provided it manages to gather the resources on time and prevent further delay.
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