Opinion: Turkey and Iran’s Inclusion in the CPEC
The recent statements of Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoust and of the Turkish Economic Minister regarding Iran and Turkey’s interest in CPEC and their aspiration of becoming a part in this ambitious project is a huge development for the region. This development is reminiscent of the past when Turkey, Iran and Pakistan joined hands and formed the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). The organization was a multi-governmental organization, which was initially established in 1964 by the three neighboring states to ensure the socio-economic development of this region by cooperating with each other. However, due to various geostrategic developments RCD could not yield the desired objectives as aspired by the member states and the organization was dissolved in 1979. Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) subsequently replaced RCD in 1985. Though the addition of various Central Asian States to the ECO was a much-appreciated step, however this organization soon lost its steam and became redundant due to differing political interests of the member states. Thus, in the light of this historical background the present developments and statements made by the Iranian and Turkish officials, an official treaty on this agenda promises a more integrated and purposive regional cooperation between Pakistan, China, Iran and Turkey that will have far-reaching geostrategic implications.
If one analyzes the abovementioned developments in the light of recent geostrategic developments, it can be averred that a uniting factor between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan is the latter’s shift away from America towards China and Russia. Similarly, Turkey’s strained relationship with Russia has been mended by their sheer diplomatic efforts and Iran has historically been in the anti-American camp. Therefore, a natural strategic and political alliance, coupled with economic cooperation could be materialized and implemented, with relative ease, given the congruence of political bend of the member states.
Currently, both Iran and Turkey engage in trade with China via the Central Asian Republics, which adds considerably to the cost of transportation and poses serious problems whilst trading in perishable items. Pertinently, Pakistan’s strategic location is such that offers a natural passage to Iran to supply its goods to China since Gwadar port is less than a hundred kilometers from the Iranian border. Similarly, China and Turkey’s trade can also be given a huge boost if this plan materializes as Turkey shares a border with Iran.
Moreover, since the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the country has seen considerable economic activity and a huge influx of foreign investments. This will lead to an increased purchasing power of the Iranian people and offer new markets for Pakistani and Chinese goods. Similarly, Iran can export its vegetables, fruits, and other perishable items with considerable ease to China through the roads constructed under the CPEC. China and Pakistan, on the other hand will yield the opportunity of an increased and fast-paced access to the Turkish markets.
Importantly, Pakistan has the maximum to gain from this arrangement. China and Iran can both help in the improvement of Pakistan’s economy by the means of increased energy supply, more effective construction of roads, railways dams and other such projects of infrastructural development. Likewise, Pakistan has always maintained cordial relations with Turkey and enjoyed preferential access to its markets. Therefore, Pakistan should exploit this cordiality and tap the emerging demand of textile goods in Turkey and supply its textile exports via Iranian roads in a cost-effective manner.
Hence, this alliance has huge potential for all the member states if they decide to cooperate with dedication, honesty and fairness. One must hope that the initial spirit instilled by Ayub Khan during the formation of RCD is rekindled and all the nations work in harmony. This proposed cooperation will have far-reaching consequences for the region and will benefit the people of all these countries in innumerable ways.