After a decade-long gap, a cargo train service between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey has been re-launched. The first goods train of the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) service was flagged off from Islamabad to reach Istanbul, its final destination, in 14 days — travelling 1,990km inside Pakistan, 2,603km inside Iran and 1,850km inside Turkey.
The railway service will be more efficient than the sea route as it will be faster and will reduce cost. It will immensely enhance regional trade and also enable Pakistan, Iran and Turkey — the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) members — to engage in trade beyond the region. Those who have operated trucks on this route say it cuts transit time by as much as 80%. This considerable reduction in travel time will greatly boost trade between the three countries. It will further strengthen the historical understanding and ties not only between these three nations but also with others in the region.
This gives an idea of the significance of the project in the promotion of regional trade and human relations. Countries outside the region too can harvest benefits from the improved regional connectivity. Considering the great potential for regional trade, the two-way frequency and the number of the goods train will likely be increased. The regional trade through the railway connection is expected to bring billions to the countries involved in the trade.
Moreover, if passenger trains are launched, which the authorities have hinted at, it will bring people of the region closer to one another through increased interaction. In view of the large numbers of people visiting one another’s countries frequently, passenger trains will help them get better acquainted with one another in terms of religion, culture, history and landscape. The goods and passenger trains, making stopovers on the way while passing through several countries, will help build people-to-people relations. The passenger trains will be an enjoyable educational tour. Tourism helps expand vision and knowledge. There cannot be two opinions about the ITI rail link being a milestone. The scheme will be a win-win for not only the ECO members but also for countries further afield.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2021.