Jai Kumar DhiraniJanuary 11, 2021
The world is transforming at a very fast pace. New alliances and partnerships are being established to serve respective national interests. The era of an interdependent world, joint development, common prosperity and win-win cooperation is on the rise.
In this scenario, a new alliance could be built between three powerful Muslim nations, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, along with two Eastern giants namely China and Russia. The evidence of this bloc is trilateral cooperation in the form of the Istanbul, Tehran and Islamabad (ITI) Train project which is going to be multilateral soon, with the inclusion of China and Russia.
The said project was launched in 2009 under the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO)—a 10-member Asian trade bloc. However, the rail route has so far only been used for test journeys. But in the 10th meeting of ECO Transport and Communications Ministers Meeting which was held in Istanbul, it was confirmed by the Turkish Transport Minister, Adil Karaismailoğlu that the decision has been taken mutually to resume regular operations soon.
The railway line intends to greatly reduce the transit route of the goods from Istanbul to Islamabad. A journey of 6500-km (Pakistan: 1990 km, Iran: 2600 km & Turkey: 1950 km) on the tracks takes eleven and a half days to complete and a train can have 20 containers—of 40 feet each—attached to it. In comparison to the traditional seaway, transporting goods from European countries to Pakistan took almost 45 days. The route has also caught the attention of the United Nations and has been recognised as an international corridor between the three countries.
It will boost the trade volume of these countries. As the contemporary bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran stood at USD293.18 million; the volume of Pakistan’s export to Iran is USD32.29 and Pakistan’s import from Iran is USD260.89 million. Whereas, the ongoing trade between Turkey and Pakistan is approximately USD804 million; with the volume of Pakistan exports to Turkey, USD295.73 Million. The completion of this project would give Pakistan a leverage to curb its trade deficit with these countries and boost its exports by encouraging small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In addition to it, the project would not only tremendously benefit these three countries but other countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as well.
It is expected that these three countries would expand their ITI train service by enhancing cooperation with China’s grand project, namely the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). As Nikkei Asia quoted, according to a Pakistani government official, the ITI railroad will connect to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through Pakistan’s ML-1 railway line. It is believed that China would not lose an opportunity to benefit from this project by only relying on the revival of its ancient silk route. It is not wrong to say that Russia could join it too in the nearby future to get the opportunity to access warm water to boost its trade to the Middle-Eastern and African market.
After the global financial crisis of 2008, China emerged as a rising power. It paved the way for the strengthening of China and Russia cooperation. In 2016, the bilateral partnership transformed to trilateral partnership between China, Pakistan and Russia. In the years later, the trilateral partnership included several other states—Turkey and Iran. Organisations such as Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are becoming crucial as they are playing a pivotal role in promoting multilateralism and increased engagement in terms of economic and security in the region.
The alliance would be a great disaster for the US policy in the Middle East and Asia, as the countries of the emerging bloc have their own uniqueness. For instance, Iran has strategic and security influence in the Middle East, with natural resources, ancient civilisation and cultures that are a glorious part of world civilisation. Central Asian countries have religious and cultural ties with Iran—and Iran has emerged as a regional power. Despite various economic blockades and attacks by COVID, Iran not only has strong military power but it is selling a large quantity of oil to several countries, including Japan and China.
China’s economic progress, its veto power in the United Nations and global influence has almost achieved parity with the United States. The process of integrating economic development with the rest of the world has made the country one of the world’s superpowers.
Pakistan is a Muslim country with nuclear power but a strong enough military as well. Therefore, Pakistan has a special value in the Muslim world. Pakistan is a regional hub for the economy and defence due to its significant geographical location. China is the centre of Iran and Pakistan is the centre of this tri-power.
Turkey, in recent years, has emerged with a powerful military, economy and a regional economic hub due to its connectivity of Eurasia through the Bosphorus as well as gaining strong hold in the Muslim world, as it looks to be confronting Saudi Arabia for the title of the leadership of Muslim world.
Russia, with veto power in the UNSC and a strong military, along with the label of a nuclear weapon state, is gaining utmost influence in almost all corners of the world. Its strength is undeniable.
This alliance would help Pakistan to gain the utmost economic benefits from the emerging eastern giants as well as energy-rich Muslim countries to quench the thirst of its energy and economic needs. This is the time to move its bishops and knights perfectly.
Jai Kumar Dhirani