Pakistan, Turkey agree to upgrade Islamabad-Istanbul railway line

ANKARA: Pakistan and Turkey on Wednesday took a joint leap forward in economic collaboration, when the Presidents of the two countries formally agreed to upgrade the existing Islamabad-Istanbul Railway Line, open up five Turkish bank branches in Pakistan and a currency swap arrangement to bolster trade and commerce.The  two leaders took the decisions during two separate meetings – one tete-a-tete and the other at the delegation level talks.

Briefing journalists about the meetings, Spokesperson to the President Farhatullah Babar said that the meetings started soon after President Asif Ali Zardari arrived at the President Gul’s House to a 21-guns boom and a guard of honour.At the delegation level meeting, the pre-feasibility report of the proposed ‘Gul’ train between Pakistan and Turkey was also unveiled, he said.According to the pre-feasibility, a weekly fast goods train would ferry merchandise from Lahore to Istanbul in nine days as compared to 18 days at present and further into the European markets thereby opening and connecting hitherto unconnected and unexplored markets. The train can be connected to other countries in the region and Central Asia region in the next phase.

Farhatullah Babar said that it was also agreed in the two Summit level meetings to double the bilateral trade from present $ 1 billion annually to $ 2 billion  and to address issues related to free trade agreement (FTA), joint financial instruments and preferential treatment through special mechanisms and stepped up contacts between the relevant ministries of the two sides.‘Our economic relations are based on the premise that Pakistan occupies a special and unique place in our scheme of things,’ the Turkish President said during the meeting.President Zardari also invited Turkish companies to invest in the proposed project of building a new city ‘Zulfiqarabad’ in Sindh to ease pressure on the province’s mega cities.Zardari offered Turkish companies’ participation in reclamation of 2.5 million acres of land now under sea on the basis of public-private partnership in which the Turkish companies would be allowed to set up economic ventures of their own on part of the reclaimed land.Accepting the offer, President Abdullah Gul said that he would send a team of private entrepreneurs to Pakistan to examine the proposal.The Spokesperson said that the cooperation between Civil Aviation Authorities of the two countries also figured in the talks with President Gul declaring that Turkey will never seek an arrangement that would put Pakistan to any disadvantage.Regional situation, developments in the Middle East and issues relating to the trilateral Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey meetings also came under discussion.

A short documentary on the recently concluded joint military exercises of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey, the first of its kind, was also screened on the occasion to highlight the growing trilateral cooperation.About the current situation in North Africa and Middle East, President Zardari said that as pillars of stability in the broader region, Pakistan and Turkey were well-placed to play a positive role in dealing with the prevailing situation in the Middle East.President Zardari also thanked the Turkish President for assistance in the evacuation of Pakistani nationals from Libya.Welcoming the successful outcome of the inaugural session of the High Level Cooperation Council (HLCC) in December last, the President called for setting up a joint investment company to undertake infrastructural projects and for institutionalizing financial cooperation.Farhatullah Babar said that the President also called for enhanced security and defence cooperation through increased military-to-military interaction, joint exercises and collaboration in defence production, saying that the mid-life upgradation of Pakistan’s F-16 in Turkey was a demonstration of close defence cooperation. APP