Kazakhstan Continues Transit Cooperation to Stabilize Afghanistan

ASTANA – Despite the widespread international apprehension regarding Afghanistan’s future once the majority of foreign military forces leave next year, the leadership in Kazakhstan believes that with the right level of foreign assistance and through the creation of a peaceful environment, that country can achieve stability, growth and prosperity. To this end, Kazakhstan is committed to expanding its direct assistance as well as supporting international efforts.

Kazakhstan’s government helps Afghanistan through various means ranging from direct technical and humanitarian aid to multilateral mechanisms, such as international organisations. The country annually delivers thousands of tons of food, fuel and equipment to Afghanistan and has offered 1,000 university scholarships to Afghan students. Kazakhstan’s main initiatives are aimed at increasing bilateral trade and investment as well as agriculture, education and infrastructure development.

During the past decade, Kazakhstan has also played a critical role in multilateral efforts to stabilise Afghanistan. Since the beginning of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, the country has supported the coalition by providing access to its rail and road networks through transit agreements with NATO and individual countries, including Germany, the United States, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Italy.

Since the early 2000s, Kazakhstan has allowed NATO warplanes to fly through its airspace without cost in support of operations in Afghanistan and provided rights for emergency landings and refuelling on its territory. Since 2010, Kazakhstan has permitted NATO countries to send non-lethal ISAF cargo to Afghanistan by rail. As of 2012, Kazakhstan and NATO also have an agreement for the redeployment of non-lethal ISAF cargo from Afghanistan. The most recent agreement expands transit capacity for NATO cargo by offering the use of the Caspian port of Aktau in western Kazakhstan.

Germany was the first country to sign a military transit agreement with Kazakhstan. The document was completed in February 2007 and came into force in January 2008, allowing Germany air and rail transit of military equipment and personnel to and from Afghanistan. The transit flights are carried out on the basis of special permits issued in accordance with Kazakhstan’s laws. To obtain them, the German side provides full information about the flight, personnel and cargo 24 hours prior to the transit. Rail transits of military equipment and personnel are also carried out on the basis of special single-issue permits upon provision of all transportation details.

Cooperation with the U.S. started in 2009 following an exchange of diplomatic notes on rail transit of non-military cargo to Afghanistan. In June 2010, the two countries signed a document on rail transit of motorised, wheeled, armoured vehicles not fitted with weapons, and ammunition. In November 2010, they formalised an agreement about the air transit of military and civilian personnel and equipment by signing the relevant document, which came into force in May 2011. The document resulted from agreements reached by the presidents of the two countries, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Barack Obama, during their meeting in Washington in April 2010.

Kazakhstan and Spain also have an agreement on air transit, which was signed in 2009 in Astana and ratified in May 2012. The transit flights are carried out based on special permits that have to be reissued every year. In addition, the Spanish side has to notify Kazakhstan of its intention to use Kazakhstan’s air space at least 24 hours in advance by sending the plan of the flight and relevant details.

“The agreement is a message of our good will and support for the international forces ensuring security in Afghanistan. This complies with our national interests, as everything that happens in Afghanistan is very important to Kazakhstan,” the then Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Omarov said when presenting the draft agreement to Parliament.

France and Kazakhstan signed their own agreement on air and rail transit of military equipment and personnel in October 2009 (it became effective in September 2011). In January of this year, Kazakhstan ratified a protocol on amendments to this agreement, signed in Paris in November 2012. The modified agreement allows French aircraft arriving from Afghanistan, upon prior notification of Kazakhstan’s authorities, to land in Shymkent airport in southern Kazakhstan and re-load military property. France will be transporting containers with military property for non-combat purposes and vehicles in non-battle-ready condition. The freight will arrive by plane from Afghanistan, be stored in special temporary bond storage and then be transported through Kazakhstan and Russia to the Baltics by railroad.

France will fund the construction of the needed infrastructure for the temporary bond storage and the area of enhanced customs control for transshipment operations through Shymkent airport. In addition, France will fund the procurement or rental of loading equipment and vehicles for the railroad spur, construction of additional roads with hard surfacing of around 400 metres and protection of freight in temporary storage and en route on Kazakhstan’s railroad. At present, France has already allocated 150,000 euros for preparatory work.

On May 23 of this year, Kazakhstan’s Parliament ratified an agreement with the U.K. on air transit of military property and personnel through its territory. According to this document, British aircraft will not be allowed to stop on Kazakhstan’s territory or perform technical landings for refuelling, resting their crews or other purposes except for emergency landings. Presenting the draft agreement to the Senate, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksey Volkov said the U.K. is expected to pay approximately 300,000-400,000 dollars per year for transit, but the actual amount will also depend on the frequency of flights, the type of aircraft, cargo and their weight. He also added that the payment is similar to those made by other countries that we already have agreements with.” The agreement between the governments of Kazakhstan and the U.K. was signed by the defence ministers of both countries on February 27, 2012, in Astana.

Similarly, the defence ministers of Kazakhstan and Italy signed an agreement on air and rail transit of Italian military property and personnel in February 2013 in Astana. The document is now being considered by Kazakhstan’s Parliament.