By Sadia Kazmi
The 13th ECO Summit recently held in Pakistan provides one with a number of hopes regarding the Summit’s adopted theme of “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity”. To begin with, this fact in itself is a major achievement that despite the new wave of terrorism in Pakistan the major event of this magnitude was successfully held in Islamabad. The ten states namely Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan along with the founding members Pakistan, Iran and Turkey is reflective of important representation from Central, South and West Asia. Not just that but the participation by all the member states was another positive sign which shows the eagerness on part of the member countries to contribute and benefit from the prospects of regional connectivity. Chinese representation in the Summit makes it all the more conspicuous and weighty, ensuring that regional connectivity is quite a tangible proposal which will be further supplemented and made plausible through the CPEC. Presently as both Afghanistan and Pakistan are struggling to improve their bilateral ties, the presence of Afghan representative Ambassador Omar Zakhilwal was a sign of hope. This representation despite the closer ties between Afghanistan and India and the latter’s ever growing diplomatic, financial and military influence in Afghanistan should be viewed as encouraging, for it did not keep Afghanistan to stay back. In the future there is a hope that President Ghani will be able to exhibit some diplomatic maturity and the ability to act independent of Indian dictation, solely for the well being of people of Afghanistan and for the much larger benefit of the whole region. The states may have differences or may be going through a bad phase in their bilateral relations owing to various factors, but the reality of a prosperous future through regional connectivity can simply not be ignored.
Furthermore the outcome of the Summit in the form of “Islamabad Declaration and Vision 2025” shows a unanimous understanding on part of all the participant states to expand trade and prosperity among them. The ECO region, which occupies the centre of Eurasia, naturally presents a geographical landscape that provides a link for East-West connectivity. Hence this idea of East-West connectivity supplements the plan of concatenation through CPEC. Therefore the presence of Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, in an ECO summit has been especially consequential. It also reveals the convergence of economic interests between the ECO states and China, which will ultimately augur well for China’s OBOR initiative, having dividends for all the participant states. This welcoming disposition of ECO countries towards China and vice versa, reflects the reshuffling of alignment patterns among the various regions, wherein the constructive engagement has already been evident through fruitful dialogue process. However for these deliberations to manifest successfully and materialize into concrete outcome, it is important to devise a framework mechanism that will ensure the adoption/implementation of Islamabad declaration and Vision 2025. Now all the participant states need to vigorously pursue the aim of prosperity through regional connectivity and own the project as well.
The states also agreed to work towards the prospects of cooperation and integration over the next ten years by promoting multidimensional connectivity. This multidimensional cooperation not just covers the economic aspect but equally stresses upon the intra and inter-regional peace and security. Commitment towards employing dedicated efforts in order to collectivity fight against the menace of terrorism and unlawfulness were also displayed. Addressing the challenge of militancy through collective response mechanism will be the most effective way to deal with the situation. The states also agreed to stay committed to strengthen themselves against other problems such as extremism and drug trafficking and collaborate in addressing the challenges of climate change and food security. Most of all the understanding that peace in Afghanistan is the basic pre requisite for the peace and subsequent progress on the objectives of ECO was expressed unanimously by all the states. It is in the same context that China earlier agreed to allocate 480 million yens to the Afghan Security Forces. Not only will it give boot to the Sino-Afghan bilateral relations, but will also allow for the emergence of a relatively new player in Afghanistan. Russia also has on more than one occasion hinted at joining the CPEC through Eurasian Economic Union. This means that the region as whole is experiencing transition as well as diffusion of power. The US and India on one hand may have to brace themselves up for a Sino-Russian alliance in the region. The possibility of new alliance and power triangles can most certainly not be ruled out.
Another much appreciated and widely touted outcome of the ECO summit is the fact that Pakistan’s relevance within the international community has been recognized once again. Despite the strong efforts by India to isolate Pakistan, the full attendance by Head of the States and by the Chinese representative, emphasized Pakistan’s central position in the regional strategic calculus, in which Pakistan is just unavoidable. The Summit took place after a gap of five years and there is no doubt that the CPEC has infused a new life into the potentials of ECO as one of Asia’s emerging markets. The significance of energy rich Central Asian states and the strategic importance of Pakistan along with all the ECO member states in terms of regional connectivity is going to increase further in times to come. The reaffirmation shown by all the states to make ECO a successful organization is commendable and should be continued through more rigorous public and private partnerships. Also the Summit should now take place more regularly and on time. Not just that but in future more important issues such as Kashmir problem can also be taken up at its forum, which was somehow omitted this time. The prevalent conflicts within and among the member states need to be resolved in order to achieve the required outcome. Last but not the least, now is the time to come up with a practical geo-economic institutional framework and make the Islamabad declaration into a reality.