KARACHI: Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are finalizing details of the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) freight train that is soon to resume its operations after nine years to boost regional connectivity and increase trade among the three countries, officials told Arab News on Friday.
The prime minister’s advisor on trade and commerce, Abdul Razak Dawood, announced in a Twitter post on Tuesday that the train would become functional on March 4, which did not happen.
According to Pakistan Railway officials, the inauguration of the train has been delayed due to certain issues at its point of origin in Istanbul.
“It is not confirmed yet, but some pending details, such as train schedule and freight charges, will be finalized within a couple of days,” Pakistan Railway’s spokesperson Hamdan Nazir told Arab News. “I think they have issues with freight forwarders and will move the inauguration schedule ahead by a few more days.”
Pakistani officials in Istanbul said they were also trying to get information on the relaunch from the Turkish authorities.
“This is very much in the pipeline,” Bilal Khan Pasha, the consul general (trade and investment) at Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul, told Arab News on phone.
“The progress on this will be shared officially in a day or two. Only the Turkish railway authorities can give us the correct launch date.”
The ITI train was launched on August 14, 2009 under the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) framework, but the service was closed due to security reasons. It covers more than 6,500 kilometers and it takes about 12 to 13 days to finish one side of its journey.
Pakistani officials say they have made all necessary security arrangements for the resumption of the train service.
“We are not just relying on Railway Police but also taking all security agencies onboard,” Nazir said, adding: “Obviously, the security of the train will be the responsibility of the country where it is moving.”
According to some foreign policy experts, the train link may not go down well with the United States that has imposed sanctions on Iran.
“The US has so far not said anything publicly about the project, but it will not like the train link being used to violate sanctions against Iran,” Husain Haqqani, a scholar at Washington-based Hudson Institute and former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, told Arab News.
“There are also serious doubts that the Pakistan-Turkey-Iran freight train service is an economically viable or efficient project. It seems more symbolic and political,” he added.
However, the prime minister’s advisor on commerce not only described the train as “a testament of friendship between the three countries” in a Twitter post this week but also urged Pakistani exporters to benefit from the new route and transportation mode, implying that the project would bring major economic benefits to the country.
Meanwhile, Pakistani officials have made it clear they are not just interested in the train for trade and commerce but also for strategic regional connectivity.
Addressing the 14th ECO Summit, which was held virtually on Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan brought up the commercial cargo train and proposed an Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway link to spread the benefits of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan and beyond.
“We must develop an integrated transport network to facilitate both intra-ECO trade and serve as a pathway for trade between the major economies to our east and west, north and south,” Khan said.