After a gap of 10 years, on 21 December 2021 Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) freight train began its journey from Islamabad. This train travels 6,540 km carries 80,000 tons and arrives at its destination in 10 days, less than half the time it would take by sea. The inaugural train carrying, rice, dates, and pink salt loaded from Margala in Islamabad, Pakistan has already entered Iran.
ITI is part of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) to boost the economic connectivity between Iran-Pakistan-Turkey. The objective of ECO is to enable the sustainable economic development of its member states and the surrounding region. ECO is an intergovernmental regional organization that encompasses from Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia. ECO has a combined population of 460 million spread over 8 million square kilometers. ECO connects Russia to the Persian Gulf and China to Europe.
Established in 1964 as Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) by Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey, this was transformed into ECO in 1985. Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey historically share many common identities, such as civilization, empire, language, and religion, and have open land access to each other. These three nations can bring stability in the region which would, in turn, empower the Islamic world, resulting in the making of a commonwealth of Islamic countries.
The ten nations of the ECO (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) are expected to play a bigger role and influence global economics and geopolitics.
Since the establishment of RCD, the political equation has changed in the region and its member nations. Turkey returned to a civilian political system in 1961 following the coup in 1960 but produced unstable coalitions in parliament. Iran continued under the brutal dictatorship of the U.S-supported Shah Pahlavi, while Pakistan under military dictatorship dissolved into political chaos and ended in the partition of East and West Pakistan in 1971.
However, the region was peaceful until the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Iran successfully ousted the American-supported Shah through a popular revolution and established its independent political stand. Turkey regained its democratic identity, but Pakistan continued to shoulder the burden of Afghanistan.
In 1992 the world witnessed the collapse of a superpower – the USSR, and this enabled former Soviet Republics like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan including Afghanistan to join ECO. Today ECO has ten member states forming one of the biggest regional blocs in Asia and beyond.
Today, Iran is politically stable and spreads its political influence in the region particularly Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Pakistan has a stronger, democratically elected government with a new outlook on the world. Pakistan’s increased influence in Afghanistan helped oust US troops, after twenty years of American influence. This has enhanced more political and economic connectivity with Bangladesh, which was once part of Pakistan. Today Azerbaijan and Pakistan are friendlier, and Turkey has a strong democratic government and is closer to former Soviet Republics.
Despite American interference in the region through imposing sanctions and covert operations, ECO member states have collaborated to accelerate the pace of regional development through mutual endeavors.
Ten member states of ECO have connected through land fortifying their cultural and historical affinities to translate their hopes into tangible reality and stability. Moreover, ITI will enable further tourism and interaction between the populace of these great nations.