ISLAMABAD: Unanimously adopting the Islamabad Declaration, delegates at the 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit on Wednesday welcomed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a far-reaching initiative that will act as a catalyst for development in the entire region.
Participants of all the 10 ECO member states – including five heads of state and three heads of government – resolved to work together by “positioning the ECO to effectively address these challenges and to seize the opportunities for the collective benefit of the region and its people.”
Regional leaders in Islamabad for ECO summit
They also reiterated ‘political will and strong commitment’ for realising mutual aims and objectives for “economic development, common prosperity, regional integration, peace and stability in the ECO region.”
The presidents of Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, deputy prime minister of Uzbekistan and ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan showed up at the conclave hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
All the delegates unanimously adopted the declaration. The conclave also adopted the Vision 2025 and reviewed goals laid down in the Post 2015 Development Agenda
While the over 2500-word declaration sounds more of a generalised document that outlined the ECO’s broader objectives, great importance is attached to holding of the summit in Islamabad at a time when a new wave of terrorism has rocked the country, also triggering concerns of the international community.
Afghanistan’s decision not to boycott the event despite escalated tension between the two neighbours in the wake of the closure of border crossings by Pakistan and strikes inside Afghan territory is also being credited as Pakistan’s diplomatic success.
Strangely, Islamabad Declaration “expressed concern about the existing unresolved conflicts in the ECO region, including Armenia-Azerbaijan,” but it skipped altogether to mention the Kashmir dispute and its resolution as per the aspirations of Kashmiris and in the light of UN Charter.
“I have no idea why they had to do that,” former ambassador and diplomatic analyst Ali Sarwar Naqvi said of the non-mention of Kashmir issue in the declaration while speaking to The Express Tribune. “Mentioning Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and ignoring Kashmir dispute makes no sense.”
ECO members for collective efforts against terrorism, drug trafficking
He said if the mention of Kashmir issue was skipped on the grounds that it involved India which was a non-Muslim state and the ECO comprises of Muslim states, even then it was not justified because Armenia is a non-Muslim state and its not part of the ECO.
“There is no reason or logic that could justify not mentioning Kashmir in the Islamabad Declaration. Maybe they did not want to offend India or maybe they were content with expressing mere concerns on unresolved disputes in the ECO region without specifying Kashmir issue. Either way, that’s not right.”
Sharing views on the impact of the 13th ECO Summit, another ex-ambassador and strategic affairs expert Rustam Shah Mohmand said the summit has a symbolic importance under present circumstances when Pakistan is faced with fresh tide of terrorism.
“It’s an important preparatory session for future when things will change for good and this region would thrive economically, strategically and diplomatically due to its natural resources and strategic value.
“Right now, terrorism is a big irritant in creating conducive environment for regional connectivity, integration and related pursuits,” Mohmand said.
On the non-participation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, he said one could not expect the Afghan president to show up at the summit at a time when the border is closed and Pakistan’s security forces were carrying out operation at the borderlands.
“But he [Ghani] opted not to boycott the conclave and sent his representative. This is significant and conveys a powerful message across about the importance of this summit,” he said.
The Islamabad Declaration welcomed acknowledging the importance of Afghanistan for the ECO region and reiterated continued support to the national, regional and global efforts for reconstruction and sustainable development as well as peace and security in Afghanistan. It renewed a “strong desire for a secure, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan.”
The delegates recalled their commitment to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter including in particular the respect for political independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, development of friendly relations among nations, and pacific settlement of disputes.
They welcomed the adoption of the ECO Vision 2025 as a comprehensive document outlining the core principles and areas of cooperation within the ECO, and resolving that member states as well as the ECO Secretariat, ECO specialised agencies and regional institutions will take necessary steps for implementation of ECO Vision 2025.
The participants underscored the three core principles of ECO Vision 2025 – sustainability, integration and conducive environment – and emphasised the need to augment cooperation in the areas of trade, transport and connectivity, energy, tourism, economic growth and productivity and social-welfare and environment as identified in Vision 2025.
Afghan foreign minister skips ECO meeting amid rising tensions
They ‘take note’ of the establishment of Islamic Organisation for Food Security for developing cooperation among the ECO member states in agriculture and reiterated resolve to ensure that the existing regional arrangements in the ECO to combat the menace of drugs and transnational organised crimes, including human trafficking, were in place and continue to function.
Addressing the media along with the ECO Secretary General Halil Ibrahim Acka at the conclusion of the summit, the PM Nawaz said the Summit provided with an opportunity to reaffirm the collective commitment to progress and prosperity for the ECO region.
“It also allowed us to identify new areas of cooperation while cementing the progress on matters currently under process. I believe that the ECO region has enormous potential for enhancing regional cooperation, based on the solid foundation of commonality of interests, economic complementarities, common cultural heritage and geographical proximity,” he said.
In his message at the summit’s inaugural session, Nawaz Sharif earlier said it was now time for “us to reclaim our historic role” as Asia’s centre of economic and trade activity.
“Perhaps no project better symbolises Pakistan’s conception of win-win cooperation through connectivity, than the CPEC. It is gratifying that CPEC is now being recognised as a catalyst for energy infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade in the whole of South and Central Asia,” he said.
The PM said the ECO can be an example of regional cooperation, touching upon and enriching lives of peoples. “What makes the theme especially relevant is that more countries in the region are already making large investments in connectivity projects,” he said.
He said the Central Asia was fast emerging as a Trans-Eurasian land bridge. Oil and gas pipelines across deserts and mountains were linking markets, while railroad networks were harbingers of commitment to connectivity.
“But we can and should achieve even more, by pooling together our individual efforts for greater synergy. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
“I believe that the ECO’s time has truly come. It is primed to make momentous advancement. There has never been a more opportune time to realise our dream of ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’,” Nawaz added.
On the sidelines, the PM held meetings with the heads of state and government including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and others. Mutual cooperation between Pakistan and respective states was discussed.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2017.
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