By Zaman Bajwa
In a world grappling with unprecedented challenges, the ECO State Summit 2023 caught the attention of environmentalists, decision-makers, and people everywhere. This summit promises to be a turning point in the quest for a resilient future, especially in light of the increasingly dire need for sustainable practices and the mounting climate challenges. Unlike the past summits, this one provided a platform for leaders of member states to share and acknowledge the burden of our shared history and take a chance on our future’s resiliency. The ECO Summit seeks to push past geopolitical noise and directly address global issues that have long defied one-sided solutions, from teeming metropolitan sprawls to uncharted territory.
The philosophy of liberal institutionalism is built upon the idea of the possibility of complex association, that state-to-state cooperation within a region can be facilitated by regional and intergovernmental organizations. Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey built together the Economic Cooperation Organization with a vision to extend regional engagement in the areas of transportation and communication, mutually beneficial commerce, and economic cooperation. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were later added to the list of ECO members.
The 16th ECO State Summit was held in Uzbekistan this year on November 9, 2023, under the axiom “Together for economic stability and development”, with the participation of all the presidents of the member states of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). This State Summit 2023 was more than just a brainstorming session; it marked a turning point in the direction of the shared future of member states. A new ECO Vision 2025 was presented during this summit, outlining the organization’s aims and objectives for the ensuing five years. It was anticipated that the new strategy will prioritize ECO region economic prosperity, regional integration, and sustainable development.
In order to promote regional growth and connectivity for Central Asia with the international arena, Pakistan plays a crucial geostrategic role. Pakistan, which is positioned at the intersection of Central Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, provides an essential link between these ECO member states. The strategic locus of Pakistan on a world map, enhanced by its sophisticated port systems and transportation networks, positions it as a linchpin for trade and transit activities. With the focus of the International community and ECO state summit being on sustainable growth, Pakistan’s contribution to regional dialogue, monetary union, and cross-border efforts is crucial in determining how connected Central Asia is to the rest of the world.
Caretaker Prime Minister of Pakistan Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar highlighted during his speech at the ECO summit that international condemnation of Israel’s conduct in Gaza is very pertinent. He called on all ECO members to take action to hold Israel accountable, support the need for humanitarian aid, and advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza. He said that around the time of Prophet Moses’ birth, Pharaoh killed children and that regrettably, many who identify as Prophet Moses’ followers are now walking in the pharaoh’s footsteps. In order to assist the defenseless people of Palestine, he belabored the necessity of a humanitarian corridor. Moreover, he stressed that the region faced imminent peril stemming from escalating intolerance, violence, and xenophobia, necessitating prompt attention. In this regard, he pinpointed the heinous crimes committed by Indian Government in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
PM Kakar and PM of Azerbaijan called on ECO member states to work together to promote political and legal measures to fight the spread of Islamophobia in addition to promoting respect for one another, interfaith harmony, and peaceful cohabitation. Moreover, strengthening diplomatic ties between Pakistan and Azerbaijan was demonstrated by Pakistan’s reaffirmed support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially concerning Karabakh. To improve regional connectivity, the PM of Pakistan emphasized the critical role that the ECO’s corridors-based approach plays. He mentioned that the successful implementation of the Transit Transport Framework Agreement (TTFA) via projects such as the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul Rail and Road Corridor will unlock the economic potential spanning the entire region.
During the Summit, President of Turkey Tayyip Erdogan pointed towards the need of the hour, for a more open and equitable international economic system originally on which ECO was founded while drawing attention to pressing global issues including escalating food and energy prices and the continuous humanitarian disaster in Gaza by Israeli forces. He also upheld one of the major objectives of the ECO 2025 strategy to implement the Economic Cooperation Organization Trade Agreement (ECOTA).
This 16th ECO State Summit hosted by Uzbekistan set out a plan of action for discussing strategies to improve trade and investment opportunities as well as development in Central and South Asia and the Middle East. The creation of interregional transit hubs, the development of modern transportation and road infrastructure, the simplification of transportation and transit tariffs, the facilitation of international freight and passenger traffic conditions, and the adoption of digitization in the transportation industry are other initiatives that Uzbekistan encouraged. Advancing commerce, economics, investment, transportation, communication, and humanitarian cooperation within the framework of the ECO States was the focus of the Summit’s agenda. Furthermore, talks focused on how this multilateral structure’s operating mechanism may be improved. It was highlighted that chances for cross-border and regional commerce should be actively grasped in order to increase trade volume amongst the Organization’s member nations.
Moreover, the member states emphasized the necessity of expanding international collaboration in order to promote greater solidarity among states and, consequently, facilitate a collaborative approach to tackling modern geopolitical concerns. Highlighting the increasing importance of parliamentary diplomacy in international relations, the ECO acknowledges the vital role played by the Parliamentary Assembly of ECO Member States (PAECO).
The ECO state summit, in a nutshell, called for the immediate cessation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the achievement of a just agreement. Afghanistan’s active participation in regional integration processes was discussed by the participating states, who believed it to be crucial for the region’s sustainable growth. Intricate cultural, historical, and geographical ties bind the ECO member countries together. The ECO may evolve into an exemplary bloc if barriers to connection, trade, and investment are removed. ECO grants recognition and significance in the international arena to smaller states, even though their progress has been gradual. As a result, it is possible to hope that the ECO will completely apply the Institutionalism theory.
The writer is Islamabad based freelance journalist and Executive Director of think-tank YFK.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.