Pakistan has not sent anyone from its Ministry of Communications or Railways to represent the country at the two-day multi-nation meeting to discuss trans-Asia rail connectivity, citing schedule-related constraints. Counsellor (Political) at the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, Abdul Hameed, will attend the meeting on behalf of his country’s rail sector. The conference, “Strengthening Railway Transport Connectivity in South and South-West Asia”, is being organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in coordination with the Organisation for Cooperation between Railways (OSJD) and Indian Railways. It begins on Wednesday.
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Iran and Turkey, two other key countries, have also opted out of the conference. While Iran’s was a last-minute decision citing internal reasons, Turkey had excused itself from the conference long back in the light of ongoing turmoil there, sources said.
The other eight participating countries, including India, will have top railway bureaucrats representing them to discuss the technical feasibility of running a container train from Dhaka all the way to Istanbul via India, Pakistan and Iran.
Government sources did not want to make much of the absence of the top brass of Pakistan Railway or representatives from Iran and Turkey, saying the two-day engagement would be one of three such events to be held this year and governments of all countries were on board.
“The third meeting this year will host secretary-level talks, so all the countries have indicated that top officials will be present then. In any case, the last time a meeting like this happened in Tehran, all countries had participated,” said a senior government official.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu will inaugurate the event while Railway Board Member (Traffic) Mohammad Jamshed will deliver the keynote address and express Indian Railways’s commitment to the project. The Railways has included this project in its annual business plan for 2017-18.
Along with discussing cooperation between countries in the rail sector as well as projects specific to SAARC members, each of the participating countries —- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, and India— will give presentations on “Challenges and opportunities for facilitating international railway transport in Central Asia, South and South-West Asia”.