Pakistan, Iran and Turkey seek to boost trade and regional ties with over 4,000 mile rail route
[Islamabad] A freight rail service began operating between the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and the Turkish metropolis of Istanbul, operating on a route more than 4,000 miles long.
The service previously operated on a trial basis in 2009-2011 and, after several failed attempts to resume operations, the first train left Islamabad on December 21 and arrived in Iran on Sunday, en route to Turkish Anatolia. Trains will take 12 to 14 days to complete the trip, about half the time it takes by sea, and will be more cost effective than by road.
The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) train will travel 1,235 miles inside Pakistan before crossing the Taftan border post in Balochistan province to cover a 1,620 mile section in Iran. Before reaching its final destination, the train will travel 1,150 miles in Turkey, passing through the capital, Ankara.
The ITI train service was launched in 2009 as part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation (ECO). Testing was done but there was no consistent service.
The ECO is an Asian intergovernmental political and economic organization founded in 1985 by the leaders of Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. Currently 10 countries are members: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The ECO’s secretariat and cultural department are located in Iran, its economic office is in Turkey, and its scientific office is in Pakistan.
A simple but dignified inaugural departure ceremony was held at Margalla Station in Islamabad, attended by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi; Federal Minister of Railways Azam Khan Swati; Abdul Razzak Dawood, advisor to the Prime Minister for trade and investment; the ambassadors of Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan; and a representative of the CEO.
“The ITI train will be one of the most efficient vehicles that can help develop exports, imports and trade among CEE member countries,” Dawood said during his remarks.
“The resumption of the ECO freight train is a step towards better regional communication between the three countries, facilitating trade and public transport for the long-term economic benefit of the region,” he added.
Regional connectivity is an important pillar of the “strategic trade policy framework,” Dawood said.
The resumption of the ECO freight train is a step towards better regional communication between the three countries, facilitating trade and public transport for the long-term economic benefit of the region.
Swati said in his speech, “Operating the container train from Pakistan to Iran and Turkey was an old dream of countries in the region that has come true.” He added that the Ministry of Railways plans to run a passenger train between these countries in the near future.
“We believe in and promote economic diplomacy which is the need of the moment, and it is a good start”, Qureshi said.
Syed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iranian Ambassador to Islamabad, tweeted that “freight train services will play a vital role in improving the economies and the lives of citizens of CEE member states by maximizing efficiency of ECO and reducing the cost of doing business “.
Pakistani officials believe the new service will pave the way from Pakistan to Central Asia and Europe, leading to better trade relations between CEE countries.
Pakistan Railways Chairman Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani told The Media Line that “Pakistan attaches great importance to maintaining and expanding existing relations with member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization “.
“Pakistan Railways are working hard to strengthen regional cooperation between Eurasian and Central Asian member states,” he said. “The draft trilateral agreement on the construction of the trans-Afghan railway between Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan is also part of the continuity of the inclusive policy of the Pakistani government,” he added.
“In line with ECO Vision 2025, Pakistan Railways believes in the expansion of intra-regional trade which can generate vital income and play a crucial role in improving the economies and the lives of the citizens of ECO member states”, Gilani said.
Imran Hayat, spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Railways, told The Media Line that “the resumption of the train is based on the coherent follow-up of the ECO agenda, which aims to open up new avenues of cooperation between countries. of the region thanks to rail connectivity.
“A new impetus to the efforts was given at the meeting of the Iranian ambassador with the Federal Minister of Railways in November 2021, where the final timetable was set for the resumption of the train,” he said. he continued.
“The presence of federal ministers and ambassadors from CEE member states at the inaugural ceremony shows the federal government’s determination for greater regional connectivity,” said Hayat. “The resumption of the ITI train will help boost regional business activities. “
He added that “the financial benefits of rail service may not be easily ascertained; however, the economic viability will be high.
Operating the container train from Pakistan to Iran and Turkey was an old dream of countries in the region come true
For its first trip, the ECO train was carrying pink salt and dates, along with other goods, to Turkey, he said.
Zia Ul Haq Sarhadi, chairman of the Central Permanent Committee of Railways of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries, told The Media Line that the rail service “will help improve trilateral trade and commerce activities and, even, it will play a central role. for the strengthening of trade and commercial activities in the region.
He added that the ECO train service “will also promote regional tourism”.
Sarhadi called on the government to launch a tourist train alongside the freight service.
Irfan Shahzad Takalvi, Islamabad-based policy research analyst and founding president of the Eurasian Century Institute, told The Media Line that “the new rail link will indeed improve connectivity and thus provide the basis for strengthening commercial links “.
Takalvi added that “to make it sustainable and economically viable, investments will be needed to improve existing tracks, rail ports and freight trains.”
“The freight train has to cross difficult mountainous areas of Balochistan to reach the Pakistan-Iran border. Meanwhile, separatist elements are also active in these areas, so security issues will also be vital, ”he said. “Balochistan and the region as a whole are no strangers to railroad line blasts. “
“In the long term, build synergies with the Chinese BRI [Belt and Road Initiative], i.e. CPEC [the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor] would make the relaunched road much more attractive, ”said Takalvi. “China would be interested, because it also provides a broader base for China-Iran and China-Turkey cooperation and trade.”