Another successful emblem

By Staff Reporter | The Express Tribune Jan 2, 2022

In what is being regarded as a major boost for trade, not only among the three countries but the region as well, the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) cargo train service between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey was revived on Dec 21, after a 10-year hiatus.

The ITI corridor was launched in 2009 within the framework of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO); and in Oct 2021, the ITI road transportation corridor became operational. The cargo train was started in 2009 but suspended in 2011 due to several delays. The ITI freight train has the capacity to carry a maximum of 80,000 tonnes of goods and can complete the journey between the three countries in about 14 days which is much faster and less costly than the alternate sea route. The freight train will cover 1,990 km (1,235 miles) inside Pakistan, before covering a 2,603-km (1,620 miles) stretch in Iran and will travel almost 1,850 km (1,150 miles) in Turkey, before reaching its final stop in Istanbul. This route has also been recognised as an international corridor by the UN. The three countries also plan to launch a passenger train on the same route in the near future.

On the face of it, few plausible contexts exist for a geopolitical trilateral between Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, as the three countries belong to very different security complexes and have different strategic priorities. However, geographical congruity gives a fair basis for forming a regional value chain premised on what each country is uniquely placed to offer. For instance, Turkey enjoys advanced technology and is intertwined with Europe; Iran has a large energy resource bank; and Pakistan has a large, cheap labour force. Hence, in a way, all three economies complement each other. Added to this is the fact that since the international order is increasingly moving away from a situation of hegemonic stability, strategic choices within these countries are also changing in tandem which provides solid ground for such opportunities.

The development of the ITI train boasts promises for the business community. As matters stand, it envisages earnings of $32 million per year for Pakistan — a potential which can be doubled if the ITI is connected to other railway stations (Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad, and Sialkot) to facilitate the transport of goods to Turkey, Europe and Central Asia from Pakistan. It also provides an opportunity for Islamabad to connect with more international markets and bolster its export portfolio. With this service in place, Iran now has an opportunity to become an important transit hub for international trade and Turkey can now further develop its natural role as a bridge between Asia and Europe. According to sources from the ECO Secretariat, the use of multi-modal transportation could further increase the load capacity on the train through mobilisation of cargo from multiple sources yet to be connected to the railway network. Furthermore, if the Marmara undersea railway tunnel is also incorporated, delivery of goods to Europe can be made even faster.

Regional integration helps countries circumvent schisms that encumber the free flow of goods, services, even ideas, and help abolish constraints to economic growth. If accomplished, regional integration helps countries improve market efficiency, enhance cooperative policies and augment peace and security.

Of course, what is more important than a successful launch is a diligent follow-up. Hence, in order to ensure that the ITI functions effectively, the governments of all three countries must ensure that all hurdles (technical or otherwise) must be addressed timely.

Following the successful OIC moot hosted by Islamabad this month, the successful launch of this service is nothing short of a milestone and another successful emblem on the Pakistan government’s efforts this year in steering the country from a geopolitics trajectory onto a geo-economic pathway and reinstating the country as a sound voice in the international arena.

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