Monday, September 14, 2009

Train connecting South Asia: A new Orient Express?

The recent news in Indo-Pak relation is the possibility of opening a South Asian Regional train service between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to the report from Dawn,
"The Ministry of Railways has technically approved an Indian proposal to launch a South Asian regional train service between Bangladesh, India and Pakistan and the proposal has been forwarded to the ministry of foreign affairs and the commerce ministry for further evaluation.The proposal had been floated by the Indian railways two weeks ago, officials said."
During the time of Maurya empire most of the overland trade to the cities of west asia went through the cities of North west; primarily through Taxila. So Mauryans built highway from Taxila to Pataliputra (Present day Patna). In 16th century a major road(Sadak-e-Azam) was again built afresh by Sher Sha Suri through Gangatic plane.

The road primarily built by Sher Sha Suri connecting Agra and Sasaram later extended to Multan to the west and Sonargaon to the east (now in Bangladesh). This road ensured Suri's legacy. Later Mugals extended it and in one time it reached as far as Kabul. Later British improved the road connecting Peshwar to Culcatta. This is the same road which was once used by Netaji to escape from British authorities house arrest.

In his novel 'Kim' Rudyard Kipling describs Grand Trunk road as
"Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims -and potters - all the world going and coming. It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.'

And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India's traffic for fifteen hundred miles - such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world."

Later Thar express, Samjhauta express established links between India and Pakistan, East Bengal mail, East Bengal Express, Barisal express(all dicontinued after 1965), Maitree Express between India and Bangladesh.

The newly proposed train service can be connected to the Pakistan-Iran-Turkey train services. Once extended it will lead to the direct access of India to middle east, Central Asian Republics and further to Europe.

On east side it can be extended to Myanmar and further link to ASEAN countries as well. This will be a boon for the land locked north-east states of India. These states will be able to access Kolkata much more easily and India will be able to access the port facilities of Bangladesh as well . Along with this Nepal and Bhutan too can be connected to this train link. On the other side China will also be able to connect to this train link.

If all the plans are gone well then this will become the commercial backbone connecting Europe and CAR(These countries are rich in natural resources and landlocked) to ASEAN countries passing right through the heart of India- Modern Silk route. This will boost bilateral trade as well as raise India's influence as a commercial power. Also the cultural exchanges and people to people cooperation may lead to solve tensions existing between these countris.

One thing that have to be ensured is the security. If security is ensured there is no doubt that this architecture will be a commercial success. This not only help India but also help Pakistan as well. Pakistan will also be able to access the market as far as ASEAN countries.


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