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Opinion

March 3, 2017

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Towards mutual connectivity

The 13th meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) in Islamabad marks a great achievement for Pakistan. The summit took place at a critical time when the country faced a fresh wave of terrorism and its neighbours Afghanistan and India are making attempts to isolate it on the diplomatic front.

In this scenario, the presence of the head of states of all ECO member countries in Islamabad has been touted as a big success of the country’s foreign policy – which is largely based on promoting regional peace, integrity, stability and mutual cooperation.

Through this summit, Pakistan’s leading role on the regional level has been proved once again. The election of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as the chairman of the ECO is likely to yield positive results while the participation of China’s executive vice foreign minister along with a UN delegation has shown their commitment to the region. Unfortunately, the Afghan president was the only head of state who did not attend the summit.

Pakistan, Iran and Turkey had jointly laid the foundation of this important organisation in 1985. The ECO aimed to promote economic ties. Following the defeat of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the Central Asian States attained freedom and seven more countries became member of the organisation.

Pakistan and the Central Asian States had enjoyed historical and cultural ties for centuries since the British Empire ruled the Subcontinent. The Russian occupation temporarily impacted these relations. However, after the Central Asian States were liberated from Russian occupation, they resumed their friendlier ties with Pakistan and considering it to be their real source of freedom.

In addition, the strong relations between Pakistan and Turkey can be gauged from the fact that Pakistanis are welcomed in Turkey and locals refer to them as their brothers. Various speculations about the future of Pak-Iran relations have also been erased through the active participation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the ECO summit.

In the opening speech of the summit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the ECO region is the hub for 52 percent of world trade and Pakistan wants to have peaceful relations with all neighbours. Talking about the importance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Sharif was of the view that it is a comprehensive development project for the entire region and will play a crucial role in improving the economic and strategic environment of the region. He maintained that the regional connectivity is essential in this regard.

Pakistan’s geographical position is unique and important in the context of Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. But it is a matter of concern that the Afghan president could not attend the summit and instead sent the Afghan ambassador to represent him. Pakistan and Afghanistan have countless grievances with each other.

But all these mutual issues can be resolved through communication. The ECO summit was the best platform for this. The theme of the summit – ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’ – urges all member states to direct the region toward progress and development.

Despite the anti-Pakistan steps – which were taken by India to destabilise regional peace – our prime minister always adopted a positive approach without compromising on his Kashmir stance.

He has invited India to promote bilateral trade relations as economic ties can provide a peaceful solution for the Kashmir conflict.

On different occasions, many countries have shown interest to become part of CPEC. If any attempt is made through the ECO summit to support CPEC as a whole, it will benefit the entire region – especially the Central Asian States located on the historical silk route. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is under Indian influence to oppose CPEC.

It is a grave mistake on the part of the Afghan leadership if they believe that the Central Asian States have no other option but to reach the warm waters of Gwadar via Afghanistan. Wakhan is the narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that separates Tajikistan from Pakistan.

During his last visit to Pakistan in November 2015, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has discussed various infrastructure projects to establish road link between both countries with Sharif. The NHA chairman has delivered a detailed presentation on the possible options – including the Gwadar-Peshawar-Kabul-Kunduz-Dushanbe route, the Chitral-Ishkashim-Dushanbe route and the Khunjerab-Kalasu-Murghab route. The last option completely bypasses Afghanistan.

According to Chinese media reports, a border trade zone is also being established there in Tashkurgan Town, Xinjiang – which borders with Tajikistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan – and it is expected to be completed in the current year.

Afghanistan must therefore understand that due to its non-serious and hostile attitude towards Pakistan, regional countries, including Russia and the Central Asian States, it might consider obtaining access to Gwadar without passing through Afghan territory.

We must join hands so that mutual cooperation among the member states is strengthened in the fields of infrastructure, connectivity and transportation for the development and the progress of the entire region.

 

The writer is a member of the National
Assembly and patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

 

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