The D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation summit in Dhaka began earlier this week, with Pakistan being represented virtually by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar, who called for a private sector coordination facility as a means of achieving the group’s core purpose — increasing economic cooperation. Khar noted Pakistan’s geostrategic and economic significance as she reiterated the government’s firm belief that CPEC and the wider Belt and Road Initiative will bring economic dividends to the entire region.
The D-8 — constituting countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkiye, along with Pakistan — is made up of Muslim countries and has been active for 25 years. The bloc represents over 5% of the world’s GDP. The latest conference began with a council decision to fully operationalise a Preferential Trade Agreement by the end of October, with the goal of increasing trade within the bloc to $500 billion by 2030. Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, who is also Chairman of the D-8 Ministerial, recently said that it is possible to go even further if member nations work together. “In the last 25 years, we increased our trade around 10% from $40 billion to $139 billion. I do not doubt if we are sincere, we can increase our inter-trade volume of $1.3 trillion within the next 10 years,” he said at an event arranged by the D-8 Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Other agreements included the operationalisation of a payments system and clearing house; the setting up of industrial and economic zones along with creative economic and financial centres; cooperation in the halal food sector; and a barter system for trade within the D-8. There was also mention of Azerbaijan’s interest in joining the block. Closer to home, however, many of these reforms could actually be seen as risky, if not outright dangerous, given the precipitously placed state of the economy. There was also little talk on how D-8 could help its members stave off economic crises. Apart from Pakistan, which is probably in the roughest waters, Iran continues to suffer under Western sanctions, while Nigeria’s economy is also in unstable territory. Bangladesh and Turkey have also had economic problems in recent months, driven largely by the war in Ukraine and other international events.
It is also worth noting that Khar’s virtual appearance disappointed some in Bangladesh as she was initially supposed to attend in person, which would have made her the highest-ranking Pakistani official to visit the country in over a decade. Incidentally, that official was also Khar, who visited in 2012 as Foreign Minister in the PPP-led government of the time. Relations since her last visit have been problematic, largely due to the Bangladesh government’s aggressive prosecution of opposition figures, many of whom were pro-Islamabad when the country split from Pakistan. However, some poorly worded statements from several Pakistani political figures have not helped.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2022.
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