Episode 7 | ITI (Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad) Train: A Gamechanging Masterpiece | Saad Bin Ubaid Rationale-47

Saad Bin Ubaid

ITI (Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad) is the upcoming mega infrastructure project among Pakistan, Iran and Turkey in 2021 which is and international rail transit project between three important Muslim countries of the region. The project ITI train which I also refer to as RCD train because it consists of the countries that were part of the Regional Cooperation Development (lately recognized as ECO “Economic Cooperation Organisation” an organisation that was created after replacing RCD after other countries showed the will to join it). This project is a main concern of previous governments of these three countries but due to some serious reasons it couldn’t be realized. However as we are living in third decade of the 21st century so we will discuss only those concerns which are related to future aspects. So here are some concerns, benefits and details of ITI rail transit project which may revolutionize the economy of region.

Its a triple country-rail transit program and in simpler words, it is a revolutionary project changing dynamics of future economies. It spreads over 6543 kilometre rail transit project from city of Istanbul in Turkey to the capital of Islamic republic of Pakistan Islamabad. This project consists of rail track in which Pakistan’s part of 1990 km via Rawalpindi, Rohri, Quetta and Taftan. Iran’s part is its major share of 2603 km via Zaihdan, Tehran and Tabraiz. Turkey’s part is its share of 1950 km via Malatya, Ankara, Istanbul. This is a major achievement of 21st century connect South Asia to Europe. In the beginning only cargo trains will be operated and after successful operation, governments of these countries intend to also run passenger trains on this track. This is not just a train project but it’s a master plan which has ability to change dynamics of world economy. We have to seen it from many aspects which are described in the upcoming lines.

Impact on Pakistan-Turkey Relations

Pakistan and Turkey share a close relationship in all domains. These relations are based on history which shows the closeness of both countries. Both Indian originated Muslim and Turkish originated Muslim rulers i.e. Mughal and Ottoman dynasties share some close inheritance and are from same areas i.e Central Asia and were credited for conversion of large population of locals to Islam. In fact in many turns of history, both dynasties have had strong military and consulate relations and both dynasties asked for military, social, economical help in need of hour but relations were proven to be very deep when Muslims of subcontinent started Khilafat movement for restoration of Ottoman Khilafat in Turkey and serve Turkish empire with money ,ornaments and many precious items. This incident also affected the hearts of Turkish Muslims and now Turkish people love Pakistanis (as being heirs of the Muslims of subcontinent) and support Pakistan on every moment; even when all countries of world left Pakistan alone at international forum as we can see in recent FATF episode.

As far as this project is concerned, this project will prove to be a huge development in imports and exports of both countries. Before this project the source of cargo and transportation between Turkey and Pakistan is only through sea transportation which is very slow and time consuming and long distance has to be covered to reach Turkey; this takes many days because ships have to cross through Arabian Sea, gulf of Aden and Suez canal. Hence, we can say that it reduces the distance to one-third which not only causes huge increase in imports and exports but also increase in exchange of culture, traditions and values. It also provides opportunity of huge exploration of tourism potential in both countries to many folds. Furthermore, with the development of land connectivity, both countries will be able to hold most power relations supporting each other with more zeal at every forum of the world with the exchanging of education, military technology, IT resources, social norms and it also credit for creation of a future strong Muslim block of non-Arab countries.

Impact on Pakistan-Iran Relations

Pakistan and Iran began strong relations with each other after the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and in fact Iran was the one that accepted Pakistan in the very beginning. These relations were strong between the government elites and a sharing of high cultural and traditional values, investment efforts and discussion on border disputes took place during Bhutto government. But with the revolution in Iran in 1979, circumstances changed and there was a clash between Zia’s Islamization and Iranian revolution of Shiaism.

Later, these relations declined due to sanctions on Iran by international community and unfortunately Pakistan followed it. In fact, due to this gap the bilateral relations were deeply affected as major projects like gas transportation to Pakistan, bilateral trade, social and cultural exchanges were most affected with the inclusion of many more. With the development of the ITI train project, first of all the relations between both countries will improve, and the two countries may resume many other projects which will cause high profit, benefit and advantages on both sides. Moreover, the trade volume will be high as Iranian products are cheaper, transportation of gas will begin, imports and exports will increase which will not only save precious revenue of countries but will also promote sharing of cultural ,traditional ,social values between these brotherly countries. Furthermore, it will also allow some Pakistanis opportunity to immigrate to West, balancing immigration between East and West and development of large cities in Balochistan will cause progress and prosperity of remote and regressed province of Pakistan. Furthermore, it will also causes a huge tourism exchange on both sides which may cause peace and progress in Balochistan and will allow cutting off Indian RAW efforts in fomenting trouble in Balochistan.

Problems and Drawbacks

The first and major problem is that of gauge of railway track as Pakistan uses conventional Indian gauge of 1676 mm while Turkey and Iran operate their railway at 1435 mm of standard gauge and for Pakistan it is quite difficult to build 1435mm gauge railway track on 1990 km. Also Pakistan currently is in no circumstances to resolve this problem. Second is that of regional disputes faced by three countries as we know that Pakistan faces insurgency in Balochistan which consists of major part of Pakistani portion of the ITI project and it seems difficult that the insurgency will be finished by 2021 which may be inaugruration year of this project. Iran and Turkey face Kurdish movement on their borders which also causes hard borders and results in many problems in the project. Third one is that of international disputes that are main hurdle in the project. Iran is under sanctions imposed by UN due to nuclear program and if any country wants to normalize its relations with Iran then it will face great problems imposed by international community. Further, historically there is a big gap between Turkey and Iran as Persian empire and Ottoman empires were bitter enemies in the past era which has still not healed. The last problem is that Iran is dominantly Shia country while Turkey and Pakistan are Sunni majority countries so this may create sectarian problems in future and create opportunities for sectarian terrorists to play openly.


The project is hugely beneficial for each of the three countries but the problems are not at negligible level. All the three countries should take strong decisions along with strong actions and make this project successful. This project will be a game changer not only for these three countries but also for China which may become future economic king of the world and may show its keen interest to make this project a mega level project; as we see development of CPEC in Pakistan because this project has shortened distance for Chinese trade with the world especially Europe. Several precautions can be taken like building dry ports, legalizing relations, eliminating sectarian conflicts to make this project successful for prosperity of this region and it’s people whose destiny is relying on this mega infrastructure project.

About The Author
Saad Bin Ubaid studies Mathematics at Quaid-i-Azam University. He is interested in National Security as well as Agricultural and Industrial development. He is a keen observer of International Relations and Strategic Affairs.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.

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