Keeping track

March 14, 2021

Pakistan, Turkey and Iran had been in talks for a freight train for long. Now, the project seems closer to execution

The rail track after Nokundi in Balochistan going to Iran. --- Photo by Karim Nawaz Baloch

“The media is creating unnecessary hype about the Turkey-Iran-Pakistan freight train. Yes, it is there but we need to be patient as there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip,” Hamdan Nazir, spokesperson for Pakistan Railways tells The News on Sunday (TNS).

The confusion was the result of a tweet by Abdul Razzak Dawood, the advisor to the prime minister on commerce and investment.

On March 2, he tweeted: “We are glad to note that Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) Freight Train will resume operations from 4 Mar-2021 after nine years. It will complete the one-side trip in 12-days, with capacity to move 750 MT of goods. This is a testament of friendship between the three countries… …and will go a long way in facilitating movement of goods between Pakistan, Iran & Turkey. I congratulate @AzamSenator for making this possible. I call on our exporters to take benefit of this alternative route & mode of transport and contact MOC for any facilitation.”

After such a clear statement from an authentic source, a person occupying public office, different media outlets explored the development and reported it, sparking the interest of the business community.

Pakistan, Turkey and Iran had been in talks for this train for long. Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, the former railways minister, had also spoken publicly about launch of this train.

Sardar Yasir Ilyas Khan, the president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI), tells TNS that the train is a good step as it will facilitate exporters. “But, it is a very small step. How much stuff can a train carry at the end of the day? Our agriculture sector alone has the capacity to produce 100 billion dollars’ worth of exports. The IT sector has a potential of making two to three billion dollars’ worth of export. Overall, we have the potential to make 200 billion dollars’ worth of exports in a year,” he says.

“We need big ships to cater to our potential. Countries smaller than us are exporting more than us. You talk about Turkey. It exported furniture worth two billion dollars last year. And where do we fall? The question [rather] is where do we fail?” he says.

“The train plan is good. Our trade with Turkey stands at 800 million dollars only, whereas these two countries have a capacity to increase it to five billion dollars. Now, you see the difference between capacity and reality,” he explains.

“We have cheap manpower. If Turkey and China shift their manufacturing here, we can re-export their products. This will be a win-win for all,” he says.

Karim Nawaz Baloch, a researcher interested in heritage and environment who has represented Pakistan at international forums, says that the question is not about the capacity of the train, it is about its strategic importance. International powers cannot rely only on sea for trade; hence, this is an important development.

However, this train is a business venture for now. But, this could potentially open up other possibilities at some point in the future as well. Hammad Nazir, the PR spokesperson, says that the rail will soon be on track. Modalities are being negotiated, he said, adding that a tentative schedule will be announced soon. He says that Dawlance, a Pakistani company, has already booked its shipment on the train. He says it will be a big boost for local businesses.

But Abdur Rauof, the owner of Istanbul Restaurant in Super Market Islamabad, says that this train will not be his preferred means for importing food products from Turkey.

“We get them from Kabul. All the ingredients of Turkish food are transported to Kabul and we get these from there via Chaman border. If you look at the volume of taxes that are placed on this train, you will not even think about using it. Plus, the time it takes is too long for food products.”

Sardar, the ICCI president, also echoes Rauf’s concerns, saying that export has been taxed at too high a rate to encourage Pakistani businesses.

The writer studies and teaches media. He can be reached on Twitter at @furraat

Keeping track