The 13th ECO summit was held in March 2017 in Islamabad, wherein six heads of state, one prime minister and two deputy prime ministers and an ambassador attended the summit under the theme of “connectivity for regional prosperity” to maximize trade and partnership among member states and promote peace, prosperity and development.
In the opening session PM Nawaz Sharif said that ECO’s Platform will be beneficial in major areas of trade, transport and energy, all areas where Pakistan would benefit from an uptick. It will strengthen Pakistan position and importance in Global politics.
ECO was set up by ten member states a decade ago to promote regional trade and cooperation among the Muslim countries. The member countries includes Pakistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Member states agreed to increase trade and cooperation but it failed to bring meaningful gains. The reason behind this is that, the trade among the member states in 2001 was $750 million dollars, but it largely decreased to $536 million in 2002. Apart from that, ECO is the leading organization of 16 percent world population, but it only generates two percent of global trade, while a number of developments occurred in this summit including trade and commerce, strengthen relations and support to their cause on different forums.
The major share holders were Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey but, Afghanistan once again has shown hostility toward Pakistan as Pakistan is holding an important summit and Afghan president refused to attend. The possible reason might be red-signal from India. Apart from that border grievances with Pakistan and recent wave of terrorism in neighboring country were the part of agenda. Thus it was very difficult for Afghanistan to justify its position and assure full cooperation. Therefore, Kabul diplomacy thought his presence unpleasant, while they are more comfortable with India.
The main focus of ECO is to promote peace and trade among the block but the fact is that the footprints of terrorism in Pakistan are to be found in Afghanistan. More over Pak-Afghan relations are on the verge of fluctuation. In this regard, ECO summit couldn’t be more significant on global level. It is also reported that the trade draft of ECO is still not ratified by member countries which has yet to be signed after ratification. Without ratification of trade agreement and till its successful implementation, there would be no such meaningful progress in trade and commerce, while number of fields has been identified to increase trade but they failed to develop interest on the platform of ECO.
The organizational structure is not well. The ECO Summit takes place once every five years; annual meetings are to be required for this emerging trading bloc to bear any significant influence but there is no such proper arrangement. Despite US pressure, TAPI and Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline have not yet materialized because member states lost their interest. Similarly there is trust deficit among Kabul, Islamabad and recently nuclear resurgent Tehran. Thus, it is very important to fill this gap for the achievement of organizational goals.
The sad and sour reality is that Afghanistan lost a historic opportunity of diplomatic dialogue and bridge-building while without Afghanistan assurance it would be difficult to maintain peace and stability, because it an important player and strategically more significant. Moreover, regional connectivity and peace on the platform of CPEC and ECO would be challenging without Afghanistan’s cooperation. Similarly, Ashruf Ghani’s absence is not in the favor of ECO and the region, it will undermine the credibility of organization.
Islamabad understands that 21st century is the era of peace, prosperity and economic development and there is shift in policies. The real promise and potential for our 21st century lies in an economically resurgent Asia as earlier EU was?
The theme of summit was “Connectivity for regional prosperity” because CPEC is opening a new market for central Asian countries, which create a plethora of opportunities and regional stability as a whole can only be enhanced by facilitation of trade route and economic cooperation. Hence, ECO is the platform to share mutual benefits and maintain regional stability.
The recent summit will strengthen Pakistan’s position on regional and extra-regional level. Islamabad showed the world that neither it would be contained nor isolated. The summit has breached Delhi’s dream of containment. The ECO Vision 2025 and the Islamabad Declaration grandly talk about unhindered economic zones, coordinated manageability, information sharing and connectivity. These are remarkable ambitions which need strong commitment and interest from member states.
As long as peace is concerned, opposition expressed their concerns over the exclusion of Kashmir in just concluded ECO summit. The joint discussion mentioned other regional conflicts such as ‘Nagorno’ and yet it didn’t mention Kashmir a core regional dispute. Moreover, Government failed to convince ECO members to support Pakistan’s instance over Kashmir in United Nation in near future.
The cultivation of ECO’s vision by member states looks fabulous on paper, but the time is ripe to turn paper declarations into living breathing socio-economic regional realities. This is an outstanding opportunity to move from words to exercises and from shape to substance.