ISLAMABAD: A sense of purpose and renewal prevails among Economic Cooperation Organisation leaders as they gather in Islamabad to participate in the ECO’s 13th summit on Wednesday where they are expected to pledge expansion of trade and economic relations and connectivity in the region.
But Pakistan has an additional reason to celebrate the occasion as it will help in dispelling the impression of growing isolation, particularly after most South Asian countries opted out of last year’s Saarc summit following India’s example, which had been at odds with Pakistan over Kashmir — a situation that had been exacerbated by the Uri military camp attack.
This time tensions with Afghanistan, which flared up because of a row over terrorist sanctuaries just ahead of the ECO summit, gave Pakistani hosts a few tense moments, but luckily Kabul agreed to join, due to other regional considerations, albeit at a lower level. A bigger fear was a possible no-show by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose memories of last year’s bilateral trip spoiled by allegations of the captured Indian spy having lived in Iran, were still fresh. He too, nevertheless, put all that aside and decided to come over.
China invited as special guest in view of extra emphasis on connectivity
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will inaugurate the summit, which is being participated by heads of government/state of eight of the 10 countries.
Uzbekistan is, meanwhile, sending its deputy prime minister, whereas Afghanistan decided to have a lower level representation.
China has been invited as a special guest in view of extra emphasis at the summit on connectivity and integration.
Prime Minister Sharif told Executive Vice Foreign Minister of China Yesui Zhang, who is visiting Islamabad for the summit, that plans for enhancing connectivity in the ECO region were “convergent with China’s One-Belt-One-Road and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.”
In a video message on the eve of the summit, Mr Sharif 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. … Pakistan would be more than happy to provide ECO states connectivity through its ports.”
The summit, taking place after a gap of five years, coincides with the 25th anniversary of the expansion of the bloc established in 1985. The summit’s theme is ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’. Discussions at the meeting will focus on prospects of cooperation in the fields of connectivity, trade, transport and energy.
Islamabad Declaration would be adopted at the conclusion of the summit. Senior officials of the participating countries had prepared the draft declaration, which has now been endorsed by the Council of Ministers comprising foreign ministers for adoption at the summit.
Pre-summit meetings have been taking place in Islamabad since Feb 26.
The Council of Ministers also adopted the ECO Vision 2025 that sets policy guidelines and priorities for the organisation for the next eight years.
Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, while speaking at the Council of Ministers, said long-term prospects of the ECO depended on renewing the necessary political will of all member states and finding common ground in promoting effective regional cooperation and on establishment of efficient and effective institutions which could transfer actual benefits to all member states.
Stressing cooperation, he said: “Global peace, stability and prosperity cannot be achieved in silos in the inter-connected world of today.”
The ECO has turned 32, but has little success to its account due to lack of political commitment of member states, absence of complementarities among regional economies, trade and non-trade barriers and inadequate transport linkages.
Leaders had begun arriving in Islamabad on Tuesday for attending the summit. Till the filing of the report, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Sharipovitch Jeenbekov had reached Islamabad.
Strict security measures have been put in place in the federal capital for the summit and the roads leading to the summit venue have been closed to traffic. A public holiday has been announced in the federal capital on the occasion of the summit. The security cover has been tighter because of the recent wave of terror attacks which hit different parts of the country.