A landlocked country has geographic restrictions for not connecting its land to the ocean. Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world and has the furthest point from the oceans. Kazakhstan is among 48 countries deprived of access to the sea. Nearly 90 percent of world trade is conducted via sea routes, but landlocked nations do not have the opportunities for this less expensive form of trade. However, Kazakhstan has overcome the challenge of being landlocked by implementing a practical policy framework for multi-modal corridors and transportation routes.
The transport system that Kazakhstan has inherited since its independence in 1991, has not provided access to foreign markets and does not constitute a single internal market. The fragmentation of transportation routes reflects the fragmentation of the economy. However, policy makers in Kazakhstan have transformed the country from a landlocked to a disconnected one. Realizing the geostrategic position between Europe and China as well as between Europe and South Asia, Kazakhstan has developed its potential as a transit link with these regions. A transport network of railways, highways, air routes, roads and sea lanes has been established in a vast area of Kazakhstan with links to internal and external markets.
The Caspian Sea is bordered by Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. Realizing the importance of maritime trade, Kazakhstan is maximizing its maritime capacity by modernizing the port of Aktau. Almost a third of the volume of trade in the Caspian Sea is through the port of Aktau. To boost cargo capacity, Kazakhstan is also modernizing the ports of Kuryk and Bautino with multi-purpose terminals, transshipment facilities, and rail access. These ports are important for the Middle Corridor or the International Trans-Caspian Transport Route (TITR) that facilitates intermodal shipping from the European Union (EU) to Baku port, from Baku port to Aktau port in Kazakhstan, and then to China and back. on the contrary. Moreover, Kazakhstan has also developed a number of foreign port assets such as the Baku grain terminal, the Black Sea port of Batumi in Georgia, the grain terminal at the Ventspils port on the Baltic Sea in Latvia, and the Kazakh-Chinese terminal at the Pacific port of Lianyungang. . Under its skillfully designed strategy, Kazakhstan is able to build a diversified port infrastructure to maximize maritime trade.
To enhance its economic potential, Kazakhstan has always kept its search for alternative trade routes. The Arctic Trade Route is another example. Kazakhstan and Russia are keen to develop shipping capabilities with a length of 4,250 km, the wide and deep Irtysh River, which originates in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, passes through the inland river ports of Symi and Pavlodar in Kazakhstan, and then, after merging into the Russian River Ob, flows north into the Arctic Ocean, at the port of Sabetta In Russia. The feasibility of the project was successfully tested in 2016 when two large chemical reactors were transported from South Korea to the Pavlodar port via the North Sea Route and the Ob Irtysh river system. Currently, 150,000 tons of cargo are transported on this route, timber and wood products are delivered from the Russian Omsk region to Kazakhstan via Irtysh and crushed stone, sand and gravel are sent to Omsk. Thus, the Arctic trade route could open Kazakhstan to the maritime economies of East Asia and Europe.
Kazakhstan is also part of the Quadripartite Transit and Trade Agreement (QTTA) along with Pakistan, China and Kyrgyzstan which is an alternative gateway for Central Asia to the warm waters of the port of Gwadar, by sailing completely around Afghanistan, in the case of instability. The QTTA will connect landlocked Central Asia with China’s Xinjiang region, which is linked by the Karakoram Expressway towards the Gwadar seaport.
Even in the most difficult economic times, continent-wide investments have been allocated and attracted to the development of diversified telecommunication networks. In the pipeline field, approximately 10,715 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines have been laid in Kazakhstan. The Caspian Sea Pipeline Consortium (CPC) has become the main route of oil supply in Kazakhstan. New transport corridors have been established between Kazakhstan and China to export oil and gas to one of the largest markets in the world. After that, the Omsk-Pavlodar-Shymkent-Shardzho pipeline passes through the country from north to south.
At present, 90 air routes with a total length of 83,876 km pass over the territory of Kazakhstan. Major destinations include the trans-polar routes – USA and Canada, Europe – Southeast Asia, Europe – China, and Asia – China. These air corridors also play an important role in regional and global connectivity.
Since independence, nearly 2,700 kilometers of railways have been built in Kazakhstan. Railway divisions were set up in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Zhetygen-Korgas to speed up the delivery of goods between China and Europe. The distance of hundreds of kilometers was reduced by the construction of new roads connecting Zheskazgan-Beineu, Arkalyk-Shubarkol, Aksu-Degelen, Khromtau-Altynsarin and Shar-Ust-Kamenogorsk. This road network connected the northern, central, western and eastern regions of the country. With the necessary infrastructure, the capacity of Aktogai-Dostyk has been increased, and the main transit area has also been increased. These developments led to the renewal of Kazakhstan to become a transport hub in Eurasia. In addition, the Norly-Zol Government Infrastructure Development Program 2020-2025 continues with an investment of $3.9 billion. The project aims to build, repair and renovate local roads with priority given to international lanes that pass through the country.
During the first three decades of independence, Kazakhstan planned and developed a prudent transportation strategy, taking into account the landlocked character inherent in the country. The successful implementation of this strategy has made Kazakhstan a global transit power with international maritime trade, transportation routes, major ports and gateways linked to land transport corridors as well as continental footholds. As a result, Kazakhstan has economically positioned itself as an intersection of East-West railways, pipelines and highway system connecting China and Europe on the one hand, and South Asia and Europe on the other. Therefore, it can be said that Kazakhstan has made great strides from being a landlocked country to a land-linked country.
The author is Muhammad Rafiq (Pakistan, a senior banker based in Kazakhstan, with a keen interest in Central Asian Studies.