Afghanistan overview

Afghanistan is located in central/southern Asia and landlocked among Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan & China. Afghanistan is landlocked but has access to neighboring countries’ ports. A bilateral treaty with Pakistan allows transit of goods to Afghanistan from the port of Karachi. Afghanistan has a treaty with Iran for port access at Chabahar and Bandar Abbas. Afghanistan’s border with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan is largely defined by the Amu Darya (Oxus) River, which is open to barge traffic. Afghanistan is a rugged, mountainous and landlocked country, having arid and extreme weather conditions. It is bounded on the north by Turkmenistan (744km), Uzbekistan (137km) and Tajikistan (1206km), on the northeast by China (96km), on the south and east by Pakistan (2412km) and on the west by Iran (925km). After war in Afghanistan the economic activities are gaining the momentum. Initially imputes was on logistic activities where the imports of military hardware, support equipment and spares to the war zone become a major reason for development of transport sectors and related economic activities. It continues to be the major driver of the import and transportation business; comparatively secure mode of communications is through Pakistan border. In the past, Afghanistan strategic presence has been based on transportation infrastructure.  Once it was a key portion of the Silk Road from China to the West.
As a landlocked country across the largely mountainous terrain of 652,000 square kilometers (km2), and without many viable alternative transport modes, roads are the principal means of transport. Afghanistan’s road network comprises about 3,300 km of regional highways, 4,900 km of national highways, 9,700 km of provincial roads, 17,000–23,000 km of rural roads, and about 3,000 km of urban roads, including 1,060 km in Kabul. The regional highway network consists of the 2,300 km Ring Road that connects Afghanistan’s major regional centers (Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Maimana, and Sheberghan) with Kabul, and about 700 km of cross-border roads linking the Ring Road to neighboring countries. The regional highway network foster regional trade and economic linkages between Afghanistan and Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. National highways extend regional highways to provincial capitals contributing to economic growth and national integration.

While Afghanistan has poor physical infrastructure, weak institutional capacities, remoteness from world markets, and a high vulnerability to external shocks, it has prioritized to develop an adequate national transport networks and efficient transit systems, to promote regional or sub‐regional economic integration, and encourage foreign direct investment in economic activities leading to expand trade. Although for the last 15 years many reforms in trade, customs and transport regimes have been carried out in cooperation with donors’ assistance, much has to be done to overcome those increasing transit/trade challenges. Road system is currently going through a total reconstruction phase. Most of the regional roads are also being repaired or improved. For the last 30 years, the poor state of the Afghan transportation and communication networks have further fragmented and hampered the struggling economy. Since 2001, many sections of Afghanistan’s highway and regional road system are undergoing significant reconstruction.

Afghanistan faces the major challenge of post-war reconstruction after more than two decades of conflict that resulted in widespread suffering and the massive displacement of people, and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. The restoration of an efficient transport sector is essential to strengthen the unity of the country and promote economic recovery and development.

Major Challenges in Transit/Transport in Afghanistan:

  • Security/Politics
  • Infrastructural Facilities
  • Weaker Transport/Transit facilities
  • Inadequate Legal Framework
  • Insufficient Business Services
  • Lack of Coordination & Harmonization Across the Borders
  • Lower Capacity & Insufficient Technical Assistance Inadequate legal/Procedural framework
  • Challenges in regulatory & procedural framework in transit/trade activities such as lack of modern and required laws & rules, shortage of skilled and professional staff, less awareness about transit, customs and trade issues

Among landlocked developing countries, Afghanistan has one of the longest distances to a seaport, more than 2,000 km, over harsh terrain. Conflicts and weak security in the country are major constraints to reconstruction and development of road sector. Afghanistan has the potential to play a key role as a transit route in Central Asia for goods going to ports in Pakistan and the Caspian, and onwards to South and East Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Afghanistan does not have a nationwide rail system. Alternative transportation modes such as railroad are beginning to emerge with the help of some neighboring countries for connecting Afghanistan with China, Europe, Indian Sub‐continent & Middle Eastern countries, reducing transportation costs & delays. There are currently two short border crossings into Afghanistan from railways in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Goods must be transferred to trucks, adding time and cost to international shipping. A railway link from Herat in western Afghanistan into Iran is under construction. Several rail links with Pakistan are proposed: extensions of railways near the Khyber Pass to Kabul and Quetta to Kandahar. A nationwide rail system is proposed, which would allow considerable trade though Afghanistan. Serious technical concerns remain, primarily the use of different gauge rails in by Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Afghanistan’s longest border with Pakistan, more than 2,400 km and with Iran, more than 1,000 km have been subject to many border closures, insurgency/ terrorist activities and drug/human trafficking. This instability along with corruptions & lack of transparency has faced the country with a great challenge in its transit/transport sector and yet with its trade expansion & economic development. Afghanistan with donor assistance has invested billions of dollars in roads construction, transit corridors and border‐crossing points to be used as a bridge between the Central Asian countries and Indian sub‐ continent.

Logistical support is essential component of any military operation, as it provides resources on which the operation relies. Effective logistical support is of special value to military operations in distant and hardly accessible areas, and Afghanistan certainly can be considered as such. This country is landlocked and as additional considerable accessibility restrictions can be considered the mountainous climate and limitations by some of the neighboring countries.

Logistical services are one of services which have considerable potential for positive interaction between the military and the civil sector, also because agents from the civil sector often can offer their services on the basis of already established supply lines or to build new ones on their basis. In supplying US Army, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and NATO missions, involvement of agents from the civil sector is almost indispensable, not only because of the mission’s geographical location and other limitations, but also because of the number of international troops contributing nations serving Afghanistan.

As alternative inland surface transit countries to Afghanistan could have been considered Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. Although from geographical perspective, use of the Iranian ports and inland surface infrastructure could be feasible, use of this option is considerably limited by the political relations among Iran and the ISAF troops contributing nations, especially the USA. The border between Afghanistan and China offers only a very hardly accessible and usable inland surface infrastructure, which makes use of this route unfeasible, even before looking at broader context of this option.

Today, Afghanistan is challenged by its radically compartmentalized terrain.  Many parts of Afghanistan are only accessible during good weather, or the mountainous nature of much of the country makes it practically inaccessible regardless of weather.  Government is trying to deal with this issue by the construction of a series of transportation infrastructure projects.