ECO & CPEC: Partners towards prosperity
Iqbal Khan


RECENT Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) summit in Islamabad was an interesting event. It had symbolic as well as substantive significance. In the symbolic context event negated Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s articulation about isolating Pakistan internationally;All ten members and three observers participated in the summit.

Even Afghanistan did not oblige Modi by staying away despite escalated tension between the two neighbors. This is significant and conveys a powerful message about the importance of this summit. Pakistan took a bold initiative to go ahead with the summit time when a new wave of terrorism has rocked the country.The ECO region straddles the centre of the Eurasian land mass. Its geography makes it indispensable for East-West connectivity. This region, which was once synonymous with the famed Silk Road, has always been a route for exchange of cultures and ideas.ECO is important for constructive dialogue among member states. It has set the direction of development for the member states. ECO has significant potential for expanding partnership particularly in vital issues including security. However, there is need for early completion of reforms in ECO regarding strengthening of ECO Secretariat and evolution of a mechanism for the ownership of projects.Peace and stability are necessary in member states to promote regional connectivity. In this context, leaders of the ECO states agreed to collectively combat challenges such as extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking, to realize collective vision of making the region a zone of peace and prosperity. ECO countries also remain committed to strengthening collaboration to address common challenges such as climate change and food security.It would be a huge breakthrough if ECO countries join (CPEC).ECO is a very important organisation and its purpose was to establish a free trade zone among member countries.And CPEC provides requisite connectivity for this purpose. It’s founding members—Turkey, Pakistan and Iran—have played a pivotal role in setting up this organization.ECO can play a vital role in building the future of economy of Central Asia-South Asia region. Current century is the era of emerging economy of Asia.Population of ECO region exceeds 471 million and its GDP has crossed one trillion US dollars. Intra-ECO trade hadhyped to 8.7 percent by the end of 2015, which is a reasonable achievement in the context of beginning with a humble 5.3 percent in 2000.While unanimously adopting the Islamabad Declaration, delegates of the 13th summit reiterated ‘political will and strong commitment’ for realizing mutual aims and objectives for “economic development, common prosperity, regional integration, peace and stability in the ECO region.” Summit 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.”Summit also adopted the Vision 2025 and reviewed goals laid down in the “Post 2015 Development Agenda”. “Sustainability, Integration and Conducive environment” were declared as the three core principles of vision 2025 and summit emphasized the need to augment cooperation in the areas of trade, transport and connectivity, energy, tourism, economic growth and productivity, and social-welfare and environment.Though Declaration expressed concern about the existing unresolved conflicts in the ECO region, including Armenia-Azerbaijan, but it skipped to mention the Kashmir dispute and its resolution as per the aspirations of Kashmiris and in accordance with the UN Charter and over a dozen UNSC resolutions on Kashmir.Mentioning Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and ignoring Kashmir dispute makes no sense.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.It was now time to reclaim ECO’s historic role as Asia’s centre of economic and trade activity.And no other project portrays Pakistan’s conception of win-win cooperation through connectivity, than the CPEC.CPEC is now being recognized as a catalyst for energy infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade in the whole of South and Central Asia. Hence there couldn’t be a better summit theme than “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity”. Speaking as Special guest, Executive Vice Foreign Minister of China Yesui Zhang said increased regional cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, infrastructure, energy, and other areas will bring development and prosperity to the region.He urged the ECO countries to step up strategic communication and cooperation for greater and in-depth regional cooperation.He said all ECO countries have friendly ties with China in terms of cultural linkages, proximity, and old China Silk Road.Yesui Zhang opined that ECO cooperation could help promote China’s initiative of belt and road cooperation for greater regional integration, development, and prosperity. ECO Vision 2025, adopted by the Summit, was a significant achievement, which set tangible and pragmatic goals along with an implementation framework. It will help realise the priorities of the organization. ECO members should collectively endeavor to build and promote connectivity in multiple domains, including sea, land, air and cyberspace to give further impetus to intra-regional trade.ECO initiatives demand commitment and tangible actions for achieving desired goals.Being a founding member of the organization, Pakistan is committed to ECO objectives like collective desire for regional integration. Pakistan has the location, political stability, and evolving physical infrastructure to achieve the common vision for making ECO a powerful economic bloc and an engine of growth.Time has come for ECO to make momentous advances for practical realization of the theme of the summit “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity”. No other project better symbolizes Pakistan’s conception of win-win cooperation through connectivity than CPEC. It is now being recognized as a catalyst for energy, infrastructure, transport, connectivity and trade in the whole of South and Central Asia.The unique geo-strategic location of the region put the ECO in an ideal position and it should play its effective role in building future economies; the ECO could grow as a platform of regional cooperation that would ultimately prosper the people. However, only desire for making ECO a success is not enough. There is a need to create necessary institutions to translate the goals into reality. Only institutions have the capacity to continue to pursue the tasks assigned.The successful ECO summit has also made it clear as to who is a spoiler in the forward movement of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).On a number of occasions, SAARC summits of which were sabotaged by New Delhi for untenable reasons. For SAARC this a moment of self-reflection, shall it continue to be hostage to Indian hubris or transform into a dynamic organization like the ECO?