Connectivity Through Train Routes to Turkey and Central Asia…

History tells us that Silk Routes remained the main platform for connectivity between Central Asia and South.  There were many reasons behind this connectivity whether it was for trade or military expeditions. All such activities were done through this region. It is also pertinent to mention that many emperors and invaders entered south Asia previously known as Hindustan either from Afghanistan or central Asia. Therefore after the disintegration of Soviet Union, independent central Asian states emerged. This created an opportunity for Pakistan to get connected to these central Asian states but unfortunately due to several domestic and international reasons, Pakistan couldn’t formulate a policy for this particular region.

Fortunately after the revival of OBOR and consequently emergence of CPEC, Pakistan got an opportunity to become the center for South Asia-Central Asia connectivity. It is an opportunity to revive centuries old socio-cultural, political and economic relations. Currently Pakistan and Afghanistan are actually the centers of commercial land routes that further connect China to modern day Central Asian states, west, and Iran as well as Arab world. It is also a middle point to connect south to West and Central Asia. Since Central Asia is the main point or center of one belt one road initiative.  Center Asia connects Asia with Europe through Iran-Turkey and Russia. Similarly CPEC not only connects China to the Middle East and Africa but Gwadar port is providing an opportunity as a shortest maritime route for china. CPEC is also an opportunity for central Asian countries as a bridge to reach international markets. Therefore better transportation and logistics is highly mandatory in order to increase trade competence. Epitome of all it is a platform of regional and international cooperation which further can enhance economic growth while contributing trade diversifications.

The current trade volume between Pakistan and central Asian republics is not up to the mark as it should have been.  The estimated GDP of central Asian states is around $251 billion.  Trade volume between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is estimated around $33 million per annum. Uzbekistan which is indeed the largest market of Central Asian states, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and Uzbekistan was not enough in 2019 and estimated around more than $122 million. In 2018, the volume was estimated at $98 million while in 2017 it was just $36.6 million. Both the countries have immense potential to augment the bilateral trade up to $1 billion in next 5-6 years. On the other hand the trade relations between Pakistan and Tajikistan are very much positive. Trade volume between the two countries has augmented from only $ 18 million in 1998 to $ 89 million in 2015. Due to its close nearness and connections through land Chinese trade with center Asian countries has increased from $ 460 million in 1992 to $ 50 billion and it is believed that this trade volume can be double through one belt and one road initiative.

Railway routes for all such connections are an essential component of CPEC.  Recently Pakistan has signed a joint appeal letter seeking a $4.8 billion loan from international financial institutions in order to construct a Trans-Afghan railway line project with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. This railway line would link Pakistan and Uzbekistan through Afghanistan and further to the Central Asian countries. Prime Minister Imran Khan signed the letter on behalf of Pakistan for this mega project. Pakistan and Uzbekistan also agreed to jointly work on the Mazar-e-Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar Trans-Afghan railway line project. Pakistan has shown gratitude to Uzbek Government to show interest and support with regards to financing for the project by signing the joint appeal letter addressing to the heads of different international financial institutions. The 573-km long railway track could make Pakistan the economic and trade hub for the Central Asian Republics.

Once ready, this train route will enhance transit trade between Pakistan and Central Asia. It will also augment Pakistan’s internal railways infrastructure. On the other hand Turkey, Iran and Pakistan are also interested to revive a transnational rail service linking Istanbul, Tehran and Islamabad. This transnational railroad can further improve connectivity with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by providing a rail connection between China and Turkey. The anticipated route stretches 6,540 km which is more than a sixth of the world’s circumference with almost 1,950 km of track in Turkey, 2,600 km in Iran, and another 1,990 km in Pakistan. By using this route the journey from Istanbul to Islamabad will take ten days otherwise by using the sea route it takes 21 days by to reach Pakistan form Turkey. The Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) cargo train has an utmost capacity of twenty 40-feet containers. It is pertinent to mention that transporting goods from European countries to Pakistan via seaway takes almost 45 days.

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is certainly the project of the future, with an opportunity for various countries in South Asia and Central Asia. The expression on goal has been phenomenal. In the near future, all routes particularly the railway routes for entrée to and from markets of China will play an important role to augment financial horizons of all stake holders. It is also expected that the projects like TAPI and CASA are likely to require a ride through. This 2700 kilometers long road and economic belt is a flagship of China’s One Belt One
Road initiative. Originating at Gwadar port on the Western flank of Pakistan and strategically situated on the Arabian Sea. Furthermore, it links China’s Western region at Kashgar. It also crosses the Historical Grand Trunk Road. This road was constructed by the Muslim emperor of India, Sher Shah Suri at quite a few locations providing the linkages to the famed Khyber Pass on the Hindu Kush mountains range of Afghanistan.

It is also pertinent to mention that China is not merely the second major trade partner of Pakistan but also a prominent investor in sectors like telecommunications, energy, ports as well as infrastructure. Furthermore in order to encourage mutual trade, Chinese government along with private sectors has confirmed a larger amount to be invested in energy and other key sectors as FDI (foreign direct investment) in Pakistan. Therefore it is essential to have a proper means of transportation for trade purpose and further reaching becoming a source for others to ease trade relations. This is the reason that CPEC has made Pakistan first transfer hub of world’s leading economy amongst all South Asian countries.

Initially there were many political or security barriers to execute this project even still enemy wants to derail the project but both countries are committed to continue working together. Pakistan will have improved trade relations via using the trade routes and eventfully will be able to overcome difficulties’ in different sectors.  By using the train routes leading to various central Asian countries, Turkey or Afghanistan the movement of goods and services will become easy and manageable on lower cost. This is also an opportunity to convert rivals into stakeholders that further can safeguard steadiness and peace in the Central and South Asian regions. Consequently, Pakistan’s economy will be in a better shape as compared with the contemporary trends.

Once Pakistan will be connected with the hub of natural resources Tajikistan having a population of 7.5 million and an area of 143,100 km through train routes or highways trade volume and connectivity with other central Asian countries will be improved, as Tajikistan shares borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. The Wakhan Corridor divides it from Pakistan in the area of Afghanistan. With the growth of CPEC, Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan will have entrée to Tajikistan as well. As a result, Gilgit-Baltistan will link Central Asia and China in order to achieve a successful geo-economic future for Pakistan. It is imperative to focus on transportation related projects for further implementation of all the projects. The transportation project is aimed to import and export from Pakistan to China and from China to other key regions.

The Central Asian countries are potential partners for Pakistan and China, with enormous possibilities for regional collaboration and mutual economic benefits. The plan of connecting with China and Central Asian countries will assist commercially feasible transportation of goods from China and Central Asian States to the port city. It will also boost trade and tourism industry in the country. Central Asian states are rich in energy reserves and hydrocarbons which is imperative to accomplish energy demand for Pakistan. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have ample gas reserves. Kazakhstan is rich in oil production whereas Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are rich in hydro-electricity. In short all the Central Asian Republics can offer benefits and in order to get something out of it transport infrastructure is very imperative.   (INDENT) Connectivity between South and Central Asian countries profoundly depends on the peace and stability in Afghanistan. Therefore peace and infrastructural development in Afghanistan can be beneficial for all the stakeholders. Connectivity through railway network with inclusion of all the key countries of the region will certainly be fruitful for all.


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About Saima Zaman 40 Articles
Writer is the Assistant Editor ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’, ‘The Asian Telegraph’ & Project Coordinator (COPAIR); a degree holder in communication & media sciences.