South Asia meets Europe: From Islamabad to Istanbul via Tehran!

N. P. Upadhyaya, Kathmandu: “The optimist people see opportunity in every danger and conversely the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity”. The quote is even fitting for our readers which is as follows, “The greatest mistake we humans make in our relationships, we listen half, understand quarter, think zero, and react double”.

The two-time-tested old adage(s) has some meaning in the article that follows.

What is the meaning, and guess wherein it fits into and then conclude yourself!

Countries trade among themselves and benefit.

And when three countries have different political systems of governance yet benefit from trilateral trade then it creates at times a history.

Creating history consumes time and energy which also demands careful guidance by the higher authorities of the concerned countries for timely benefit outcomes.

And witness to this new history in recent years was the attendance of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Minister for Railways, the adviser to the prime minister for commerce and investment, and a galaxy of Ambassadors from Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan respectively plus the representative of the ECO Secretariat.

We are talking today about the freight train service that just commenced last year on December 21 2021 which originated from the Margalla Hills in Islamabad and reached Istanbul via Tehran in almost 14 days. The great going that it was and a glaring example of regional connectivity.

Or else it would have taken some good twenty-one days by Sea route.

The rail distance from the point of origin to the point of end got shortened by a good number of days which is cost-effective as well.

It was a merchandise train that crisscrossed a total of 5, 981 kilometers which are roughly 3, 666 miles.

Whatever may have been the distance in between Pakistan to Turkey, what is noteworthy is that the cargo train has commenced rolling which is sure to bring close the three countries.

The freight train that left Pakistan for Turkey reportedly had a total of eight carriages carrying each a load of 22 tons or even more.

Trade has begun for now which shall expectedly take new heights in the days and months ahead.

What is most important and highly significant about this locomotive is that it has accomplished a very “friendly” task that will, expectedly, glue the three countries, e.g. Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey in what could be taken as a “trade bond” which time permitting benefit all the countries tied up in this union.

It is altogether a different matters that these three countries now linked by the rail links with were all “friendly” to each other and the religion Islam being common in these countries that perhaps adds to their strength of friendship.

In addition, the foresight train to Turkey from Pakistan has also opened a new trade corridor.

This trilateral friendship between the three countries is logical in that the countries are all founders of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

Notably, the ECO is an Asian political and economic intergovernmental organization founded in 1985 by the leaders of Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Media sources say that at the moment, some 10 countries are members of this ECO, for example, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-all Muslim countries.

Interestingly, the ECO’s secretariat and cultural department are located in Iran, its economic bureau is placed in Turkey and most importantly the scientific bureau is situated in Pakistan.

The inaugural of this freight train is sure to increase regional commerce which could also benefit other countries who wish to join the trilateral cooperation — Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan.

As stated earlier, it would also give a new meaning to regional connectivity.

The expected expansion of this trilateral cooperation appears likely to be at a later stage when the Central Asian Countries in the ECO itself exhibit a keen interest in benefitting from this freight train.

If the countries housed in the ECO begin trading amongst themselves then the entire “ECO” region would be a formidable economic force.

Interested men and experts engaged in the business and trade sector have hailed the “goods” train service reiterating that the 6,500-kilometer railway line will not only save money, but also expedite cargo and container transportation, and thereby greatly reduce travel time.

Since China and Pakistan have excellent relations with the countries of Central Asia, the likelihood of joining this TROIKA appears round the corner.

Media reports have it that “bilateral talks” are in progress between Islamabad and China to link this rail corridor with Kashgar, which lies in the southern province of Xinjiang.

Interestingly, China’s involvement in several rail projects in Pakistan is motivated primarily by commercial considerations, but concurrently it also sees distinct advantages for its improved transportation and access to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, as Pakistan’s national rail network connects through to Pakistan’s seaports at Karachi and Gwadar, so views the Silk Road Briefing (December 28, 2021) while penning a story on the three countries fresh initiative as regards the freight train.

By the way, some countries in the Gulf have exhibited their keen desire to trade through the Gwadar port in Pakistan if the latter provides the Arabian countries the opportunity.

The ITI train service previously ran on a trial basis as back as in 2009-2011 and after several abortive attempts to resume operations”, the Train succeeded in resuming its move on December 21, 2021, writes Arshad Mahmoud in the Jerusalem Post.

“The resumption of the ECO freight train is a step towards better regional communication in between the three countries that surely will facilitate trade and public transportation for the long-term economic benefit of the entire region, so claimed a high official from Pakistan’s Prime Minister who was present at the ceremony for the departure of the freight train.

If the freight train is a success then the countries engaged in this enterprise may also bring in the idea of initiating the service of “passenger” train which will allow the tourism sector of these countries to flourish.

However, it may take some to bring this idea into fruition.

Given the fact that Pakistan has close and cordial ties with the entire central Asian countries and China and Russia.

Some Central Asian leaders have just met Pakistani Prime Minister Khan in Beijing during the Winter Olympics early February, let’s presume that both Russia and China must have jointly or even separately sent enough political signals to the countries of the CAR’s to benefit from the Iran-Turkey-Pakistan endeavor that aims at enhancing the regional commerce.

Most importantly, at the end of PM Khan’s Beijing visit early February, a joint statement of China and Pakistan was issued.

A portion of the statement reads, “China held the view that the Kashmir issue “should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter, relevant Security Council Resolutions and bilateral agreements”.

China further said in the joint statement on Kashmir that “it opposes any unilateral actions that complicate the situation”. Notably, the joint statement stresses the reiteration from the Chinese side that Kashmir was a “disputed territory which was left by the history and should be dealt with as per the relevant resolutions of the United Nations taken in the past.

To recall, China had opposed the India’s revocation of Article 370 in August 2019.

If so, the present carriage train route from Islamabad to Istanbul could be extended to some other countries too thus giving a real and proper boost to the regional commerce and connectivity.

China though is not a reliable partner for Nepal, but its ties with Pakistan are rock solid as the high level officials in Beijing and Islamabad reiterate time and again.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has intensified their ties over these years more so after the advent of Prime Minister Imran Khan in 2018.

Not surprising therefore is the fresh statement made by the Ambassador of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Kistafin, January 28, last month end wherein he said that “ a potential links between Islamabad and Kazakh capital Astana through the connection of railways such as Kazakhstan –Turkmenistan-Iran and Pakistan-Iran-Turkey.

Ambassador Kistafin sounded clearly that “Pakistan provided a natural link to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and South Asia.

This means if India plus other South Asian countries and the Arabian nations so desire then Pakistan could offer the critical land routes and connectivity for mutually beneficial trade to the countries who wish to expand their trade and commerce.

To recall, Ambassador Kistafin was also present when the freight train departed from Pakistan on its final destination to Turkey.

His statement thus assumes greater significance in enhancing the regional commerce with such rail connectivities.

Appropriately writes on the three country freight train service, Ryan Erik King for the JALOPNIK dated February 1, 2022, that “each of three countries would benefit if the rail service were heavily used and if it is so then China would like to better relations with each country on the route to integrate the railway into its Belt and Road Initiative, BRI.

And the Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismail oglu said that “ this endeavor will offer another option to industrialists and buisnesds people on th Pakistan-Iran-Turkey route.

He also reiterated that this train freight service will lead to the development of trade between the two countries.

Quite interestingly, the Iranian Ambassador based in Turkey Mohammad Farzamand attended a ceremony held in Istanbul when the freight train arrive in Turkey.

Last but not the least, Syed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran’s ambassador to Islamabad, tweeted that “the freight train services will play a vital role in improving the economies & lives of citizens of ECO member states by maximizing ECO efficiency & reducing the cost of doing business.”

While writing on the Pakistan-Iran-Turkey rail service, sensible and responsible political analysts in Nepal recall the sad and bad state of the tall talk of regional connectivity among the South Asian nations under the aegis of the SAARC-a redundant regional organization that was most unfortunately “killed” deliberately by the South Asian regional scoundrel by Indian Prime Minister Modi.

Notably, PM Modi thinks that such a corridor if and when appears in the SA region, will promote Islam at the cost of Hindu religion.

His fear is his own making which contains the seeds of his hatred against Muslims as was witnessed just the other day in Karnatka with the Muslim Girl student.

Sensible Indian condemned Modi’s silence over the Karnatka sad incident.

Had India been not in this region, the smaller countries would have benefitted much from such a SAARC rail corridor.

For the Road: Allah Nawaz for the Eurasian Review dated February 9, 2022, writes that “On the sidelines of the international conference on central and South Asia regional connectivity, an agreement is signed between Pakistan and Uzbekistan governments which will shift export of Uzbekistan from Iranian Bandre Abbas port to Pakistani seaports.

These steps not only provide transit trade routes for central Asian states but new doors of investments for Pakistan will open.

These initiatives will lead to an economic boom in both regions.

Hope that this scheme joins the Pakistan-Iran-Turkey Rail corridor time permitting for the benefit of the entire countries in the region.
That’s all.


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