ISLAMABAD: Heads of state and government from member states of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) arrived in Islamabad on Tuesday to participate in the 13th regional summit being held today (Wednesday) which, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, would enhance regional integration.
The summit, which is taking place amidst heightened security concerns, coincides with the first death anniversary of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-claimed killer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer. This is the main reason the government has announced a holiday today (Wednesday) in the twin cities.
Including Pakistan, all the 10 member states including Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan are participating in the summit.
At a time when ties between Islamabad and Kabul are on a downward trajectory following the recent uptick in terrorist violence in Pakistan that led to a verbal spat between the two neighbours, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is not participating in the summit and he is represented by a delegate.
Nevertheless, the signing up for the moot by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is deciphered prolific. Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Yesui Zhang is attending the conclave on the special invitation of Premier Sharif.
While Pakistan’s government functionaries claim huge success in hosting the moot, diplomatic experts see the 13th ECO summit as a development that entails more of long-term prospects than immediate benefits.
“The prospects of regional integration, connectivity, development, infrastructure, and trade hinge on conducive environment, improved security situation, optimum climate and favourable atmosphere. These things are missing here and when the situation is hostile, you can’t pursue the goal of regional connectivity,” former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand told The Express Tribune.
He said the ECO summit was significant in terms of preparing for the future. “Times will change. This region will not be forever in the mess it is today. It would be the centre of the world. Economic prospects, the natural resources-rich ECO states and our strategic importance — regional connectivity would be vital in the coming times and it is a positive sign that we have kick-started our preparations to meet future needs when ‘one belt one road’ and CPEC would be ruling the roost and we should be eyeing to derive maximum benefits from the regional arrangement in future,” he added.
Mohmand said terrorism was a serious challenge for ECO states, while Pakistan was the worst affected by this menace. “So is Afghanistan. And there are our mutual issues. Then there’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) that is a serious threat for Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states,” he said, adding that Iran had its own issues with other states.
“Differences need to be ironed out to defeat terrorism and a climate needs to be created to make regional connectivity workable.”
Official sources believe the participation of Afghanistan amidst heightened tension between Islamabad and Kabul is a breakthrough between the two neighbours. “This shows the components in the Afghan government that side with Ashraf Ghani have not allowed the hawks to prevail that are backed by the other lobby,” said a government functionary, wishing not to be named, while referring to Abdullah Abdullah’s lobby that adopts a highly critical approach towards Pakistan.
“Even if the Afghan president is not here, he is represented in the event needs to be seen in positive vibes.”
Political analyst Kanwar Dilshad said the 13th ECO summit bore more relevance due to Pakistan’s avowed resolve to pursue the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “All the ECO member states want to be part of CPEC. Afghanistan fully realises that bilateral hostility should not take precedence over multilateral regional prospects, or otherwise, it would stand isolated,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Council of Ministers (COM) on Tuesday preceded the ECO summit.
The COM meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of the ECO states who mapped out the specifics of Islamabad Declaration to be adopted in today’s summit and discussed the Draft ECO Vision 2025, which lays down three long-term priorities of ECO: (i) Development of transport and communication infrastructure; (ii) Facilitation of trade and investment; and (iii) Effective use of the region’s vast energy resources.
Interestingly, while the federal ministers, including Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal received the ECO heads of states at Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev was received by the prime minister himself. Turkey’s Erdogan, who is known to be having ‘very close’ relations with the premier, was received by the planning minister. Premier Sharif held separate and delegation-level meetings with the Azerbaijan president.
In his message for the 13th ECO summit, Premier Sharif said that “The participation of high-level leadership from all 10 members of the ECO makes this summit a significant milestone. The event also marks the 25th anniversary of the joining of ECO by seven new members in 1992”.
He further said that the occasion inspires Pakistan to redouble its efforts to achieve the aims and objectives of the organisation for the benefit and welfare of all the people. “Surely, the Islamabad Declaration, to be adopted at the summit, will reflect the joint aspirations of the people of the region,” he said.
“I have firm conviction that expanded connectivity, enhanced trade and deeper economic cooperation would transform our region into a bastion of progress, prosperity and peace. ECO states are the proud custodians of the Silk Road legacy; and inspired by the Silk Road’s spirit of openness, Pakistan would be more than happy to provide ECO states connectivity through its ports,” he added.
He said that ECO region was endowed with abundant energy resources, minerals, agriculture, industry and dynamic human capital.
“Our common cultural and historical heritage is an even more valuable asset. Synergizing our strengths, we can soon change our region’s destiny. The way forward for us has been laid out in ECO Vision 2025 in the form of pragmatic and tangible organisational targets,” he stated.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1, 2017.