10 Afghan bikers cycle their way to Istanbul

Cyclists emphasize significance of Lapis Lazuli corridor

afghan-bikers-welcomed-in-istanbul

Ten Afghan bikers have pedaled 4,118-kilometers from Afghanistan to Turkey to emphasize the economic and cultural relations between countries in the region. The Turkish-Afghan Friendship Cycling Tour began in Afghanistan’s Harat province and ended at the World Peace Park in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkish media reported. The cycling tour also aimed to revive the 2,000-year-old Lapis Lazuli corridor, an international route linking Turkey and Afghanistan via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The historic corridor was used to export Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli and other semiprecious stones to the Caucasus, Russia, the Balkans, Europe, and North Africa along the ancient Silk Road.

The corridor begins in Aqina and Turghundi ports in the Afghan provinces of Faryab and Herat and continues to the Caspian Sea port of Türkmenbaşy in Turkmenistan, crosses the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, connects onward to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and ports Poti and Batumi on the Black Sea before reaching Kars and Istanbul in Turkey. It includes roads, railway, and maritime routes. Negotiations to re-establish the corridor and enhance regional economic cooperation and connectivity between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey continued for three years in order to address numerous factors in the region, including insecurity, economic instability and poorly developed infrastructure networks. The Lapis Lazuli Route agreement was signed in 2017 during the Seventh Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VII) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani launched the new international trade route in December 2018, setting off the first trucks laden with more than 175 tons of cotton, dried fruit, and sesame to the partnering countries. “For over 17 years Afghanistan was in isolation, but today Afghanistan is connected with its neighbors and beyond,” Ghani said. As a landlocked country, Afghanistan mainly relied on Pakistan for its international trade.

However, in seeking to build up its economy wrecked by decades of war and to reduce reliance on a single country, Afghanistan has been particularly keen on the Lapis Lazuli corridor that would diversify its transit routes and offer shorter and cheaper alternatives. One month earlier, Ghani Ghani inaugurated the China-Afghanistan air corridor with an aircraft carrying 20 tons of pine nuts from Kabul to Shanghai. Afghan officials believe that their country will benefit from greater market accesses and more diverse international supply chains.

By Habib Toumi

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