Sixty-two years after Partition, India has initiated a novel scheme to stitch together closer ties with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Indian Railways has proposed a South Asian regional train service linking Dhaka, New Delhi and Lahore.
The proposal was first put forward at a SAARC transport ministers’ conference in Sri Lanka earlier this month.
“It flows out of India’s commitment to the programme sponsored by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific for the construction of a Trans-Asian Rail (TAR) network,” Railway Board member Shri Prakash told HT.
The larger programme aims to build an 81,000-km network connecting Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Russian Federation.
Enthusiastically backing India’s proposal, US state department spokesman Ian Kelly said in Washington on Friday, “The US supports ideas such as this to break down barriers to trade and interaction among the Pakistan and Indian peoples.”
But the proposal has a long way to go before implementation. After being “technically approved” by Pakistan’s railway ministry, the proposal is being studied by its commerce and foreign affairs ministries, reports from Islamabad indicate. A senior official at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi confirmed the proposal was being discussed, but refused further details.
Bangladesh, however, has raised serious concerns. “Bangladesh has no intention of having trade links with Pakistan. Such a proposal was never discussed at bilateral meetings with India,” an official of the Bangladesh High Commission said.
Experts say the project is viable as all three countries use the same broad gauge tracks and operating equipment.