Amid the surge to revive ‘Silk Road’ and transnational economic initiatives; leaders at Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) Summit themed  “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity” has adopted ‘The ECO Vision 2025’ to make tangible progress with vivid time-frame in the areas of energy, transport and connectivity, trade, tourism, economic growth and productivity, social welfare and environment. The ECO vision has set the direction of Greater Eurasian Integration.

Reflecting the consensus and resolve of ECO Member States to collectively take on the contemporary economic challenges two comprehensive documents titled ‘Islamabad Declaration’ and “ECO Vision 2025” were adopted during the Summit emphasizing key areas trade, transport and energy can lead to transformative change across the region. Vision 2025 is claimed to be the realistic and achievable road-map for accelerating economic integration that works to the common good of all our people.

The participants of the Summit along with host Nawaz Sharif – Prime Minister of Pakistan, Ilham Aliyev – President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Hassan Rouhani – President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Emomali Rahmon – President of the Republic of Tajikistan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan – President of the Republic of Turkey,  Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov – President of Turkmenistan, Bakytzhan Sagintayev – Prime Minister of Kyrgyz Republic,  Ulugbek Rozukulov – Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Askar Myrzakhmetov – First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Uzbekistan while Afghan head of state refrained the conference in protest over closure of border crossings by host Pakistan. Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Hazrat Omer Zhakhilwal represented as Special Envoy of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Trans-Eurasian Connectivity

The trade and economics is among the core objectives of the organization, which is not possible without required infrastructure for connectivity of entire Trans-Eurasia. The declaration noted the positive political, economic, cultural and technological developments that can facilitate the realization of the long-held dream of trans-Eurasian connectivity, including the ECO Region. The summit also welcome the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a far-reaching initiative that would act as catalyst for the development of the entire region.

ECO Summit approved the most comprehensive and well-studied Transit Transport Framework (TTFA) for ECO Region and its full implementation will encouraged the regional connectivity and enhance cooperation. ECO-wide connectivity in terms of transport and transit; telecommunications; cyber; and all forms of energy; as well as people-to-people exchanges, including through regional tourism arrangements will focus of the organization in coming years. A clear-cut outcome was envisioned in the Vision 2025 to enhance regional connectivity, that existing ECO Corridors will be Operationalized and commercialized to enable increased intra and inter-regional trade.

Doubling Intra-Regional Trade

Though, since its inception ECO couldn’t make any difference to achieve the organizational goals and objectives but available strategic and geo-economic environment is conducive to flip the course. Prime Minister of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif in his opening remarks acknowledged that the ECO region is not insignificant, it represents a sixth of all humanity 16% of the world’s population. Despite enormous potential, ECO region generate only 2% of the world’s trade. “Trade numbers do not reflect what we could achieve through greater integration and connectivity” he said. The summit calls for doubling intra-regional trade in the next five years and promoting connectivity.

In 2015, the global ECO trade reached US$ 648 billion. This included exports of US$ 285 billion and imports of US$ 363 billion. ECO is a net importer from the world with a negative trade balance of US$ 78 billion. A large part of this can be diverted to ECO countries if ECO Trade Agreement (ECOTA) is operationalized. In 2015 the total intra-ECO trade was US$ 58 billion which, at 9 percent, is far below its true potential.

ECO Expansion

Presence of Chinese representative in the Summit on the invitation of Pakistani Prime Minister holds special significance, its most likely that China including some other important countries could join the organization while if Russia is also included into ECO, importance of the organization would be multiplied. Islamabad Declaration approved “the further enlargement and outreach of the Organization through full membership to the interested states, and observer-ship to the interested states/organizations, on case to case basis, adding value to the Organization”.

Special Conference on Afghanistan

Instability in Afghanistan supposed to be the biggest hurdle in Eurasian Integration, Islamabad Declaration also tasked the ECO Secretariat to develop a comprehensive ECO advocacy programme for Afghanistan in the upcoming “ECO Special Conference on Afghanistan” to be held in May 2017 in Kabul. The conference would further deliberate upon that how regional countries can contribute to the peace and stability in Afghanistan to accelerate the economic activities in the region.

Cultural Cohesion

The declaration also acknowledges “International Day of Nowruz” as a factor contributing to the strengthening of friendship between nations, and in this context, urges the Member States to actively participate in the celebrations and preparations of joint events. This would reflect cultural cohesion in the region once synonymous with the fabled “Silk Road.” Meeting point of civilizations, the corridor of heritage and ideas, the land of Al-Beruni, Farabi, Saadi, Rumi and Iqbal.

Conflict Resolution

The summit expresses concern about the existing unresolved conflicts in the ECO region, including Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, which hinder the economic growth and realization of the full economic potential of the region and impede the development of economic cooperation on regional as well as broader level. The summit stressed upon the importance of making increased efforts for the earliest resolution of these conflicts based on the norms and principles of international law, in particular the principles of respect to sovereignty and territorial integrity.

However, the Kashmir was missing among the conflicts in the declaration despite the latest phase of uprising in the occupied valley has been the singular focus of Pakistan’s diplomacy since last July, depicts Pakistan’s failure to convince the ECO states to include the issue in the final declaration. Later on, Prime Minister Sharif highlighted Kashmir issue in his concluding remarks, as he said “peaceful settlement of longstanding disputes, like Jammu and Kashmir, and alleviating sufferings of the Kashmiri people would greatly help in advancing the goals of stability and development of the entire region”.

It was a significant moment, when in the sideline meetings of summit led to the Iranian and Turkish leadership, opposite sides in Syrian conflict, agreed to improve ties and work together, including in the fight against terrorism. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met in friendly atmosphere.

Resolve for Democracy

The declaration acknowledge the need for supporting measures to immediately address the threats to democracy, including coup d’etats aimed at overthrowing the democratically elected governments and constitutional orders of the member countries and the foreign occupation of the territories of the member states, including economic strangulation, which undermine the role of the legitimate democratic governments in pursuing their socio-economic development and programmes. The resolve expresses support for democracy in Turkey that faced a botched coup attempt last July.

Major takeaways

  1. An understanding among member states to transform the ECO region into a zone of peace and collective prosperity. They underscored the intrinsic linkages between member states based on shared history, culture, geography and mutual common interests.
  2. An emphasis by ECO member states to build and promote connectivity in sea, land and air transport, energy, trade as well as in cyberspace in order to give further impetus to intra-regional trade.
  3. Enhanced regional cooperation in the energy sector, focusing on energy efficiency, energy infrastructure development, intra-regional energy trade and access to affordable energy.
  4. Important steps to ease people-to-people contacts, as well as revive and rebuild historical connections and promote regional tourism.
  5. Collective determination to face regional challenges together, such as extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking and address unresolved conflicts, in order to realize the leaderships’ vision of making the region a zone of peace and prosperity.
  6. Strengthened collaboration to address common regional and international developmental challenges including climate change, food security and energy sufficiency as well as disaster risk reduction through an emphasis on innovation, research and development and partnership in science and technology.
  7. Cooperation for an effective implementation of the Agenda 2030.

Complete document of “the ECO Vision 2025” can be accessed athttp://www.mofa.gov.pk/pr-details.php?mm=NDgwNw,

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Almas Haider Naqvi is an award winning journalist, researcher, political and security analyst. He writes on defense, security and foreign policy issues, regional integration, democratic values, parliamentary legislative process are also core areas of interests.