The ECO region has immense potential for development to the mutual benefit of the member states



Sep 27 - Oct 03, 2004





The 8th Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) has concluded at the Tajik capital with the adoption of Dushanbe Declaration that, inter alia, welcomed the finalization of ECO Trade Agreement and called upon the member states to sign and ratify it expeditiously to pave the way for establishment of a 'free trade area in the ECO region by 2015'. It also stressed for making the ECO a more effective forum for modernization, growth and development in the region. Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz presented a five-point strategy to realize ECO's goal for economic cooperation within the member states. He said that the ECO policies must be result-oriented and ECO trade agreement, the transit transport agreement and the ECO Trade and Development Bank should be implemented expeditiously.

The ECO region has immense potential for development to the mutual benefit of the member states. What is needed is proper harnessing of the region's resources and their harmonious utilization for individual and collective development. It's certainly encouraging that the ECO has started oscillating to respond to the economic challenges. ECO countries have immense natural and human resources that can contribute significantly to their socio-economic development and lead to usher in prosperity for the region as a whole. A free trade zone in the ECO region is, therefore, vital to make use of the member states' potentials to their collective well being. There is, however, no doubt that sustained efforts are needed to promote trade and economy of the ECO member states.

The summit declaration also stressed the need for ratification and implementation of transit transport framework agreement. It was also pointed out that the development and modernization of transport and communication system aiming at bringing out closer economic cooperation between the member states was one of the three priority areas identified by the organization and therefore greater attention was required to be paid in this direction.



Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who played a proactive role in the conference stressed upon the need for evolving a comprehensive strategy to promote the objectives of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). He laid particular emphasis on the establishment of ECO development bank, early implementation of trade and transport agreements and highlighted the importance of improving travel facilities among the member countries. The basic theme of his address at the ECO summit was that the policies of this organization should be result-oriented and an effective system for their implementation be evolved. The Prime Minister also held important and useful meetings with the leaders of ECO member countries including the presidents of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Iran. Besides Pakistan, the countries that are attended the ten members ECO summit are Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kirgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Pakistan has enjoyed historical, cultural and friendly relations with these countries, serving as a route for their international trade. However, this route remained disrupted for long time because of cold war. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent states desired that the traditional economic, trade and cultural relations be revived between Central Asia and other Asian countries. But owing to the situation in Afghanistan their wish could not be realized. In an interview given by the Prime Minister as well as during the meetings with the leaders of ECO member countries, including the President of Tajikistan, he emphasized that Gwadar and Karachi could provide ideal port and transit facilities for the Central Asian republics to establish their trade links with the world that would benefit the entire region. The Prime Minister described the laying of the pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and from Iran to Pakistan as matters of immediate importance.

In a meeting held between the leaders of Pakistan and Tajikistan, their leaders agreed to connect the two countries through road link, up gradation of Tajik consulate to the embassy level, establishment of an export display center and opening of the branch of a Pakistani bank in Dushanbe. A meeting of the Pak-Tajik joint commission will soon be called. Pakistan has also proposed to set up a grid station in Central Asia so that electricity could be supplied to various countries including Pakistan. The Prime Minister apprised the Tajik president about the ongoing dialogue with India reiterating that Kashmir was the core problem between them, which Pakistan wanted to resolve peacefully. He expressed the hope that Pak-India talks will bring forth positive results. He apprised the other ECO leaders about the various aspects of Pak-India relations. He also dwelt upon Pakistan's efforts against terrorism.

Although ECO has failed to play an effective role in the past, recent developments in the region and the world have demonstrated its increasing importance. The offer to use the port facilities at Gwadar and Karachi to the Central Asian republics is an important proposal because by adopting the trade route through Pakistan, the economies of the Central Asian Republics can benefit immensely because their transportation costs will be minimized. The pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan will become the source of gas supply from there on inexpensive rates. Apparently there is no hindrance in laying the pipeline between Iran and Pakistan, and if India or any other country wants to benefit from it, there should be no problem in offering this facility to them. By increasing their trade, the ECO countries can benefit in other fields as well. Pakistan and Turkey, for instance, have desired to increase their trade to at least one billion dollars, which is encouraging.

However, the situation in the region and seriousness of the one existing in Afghanistan and Iraq demand that whatever initiatives are taken should be taken with great care and caution. The strong American objections against Iran's nuclear programme appear to be adding to the existing tension. European Union has warned Iran that if it did not stop (uranium enrichment), it will have to face serious consequences. The US has warned Syria that it should get out of the Lebanon. The situation in Afghanistan is of fundamental importance in the promotion of economic and trade relations among the ECO member countries. The utility of ECO hangs as a big question mark. It is now for the member states of the organization to take concrete steps to make it a vibrant, purposeful organization that would benefit the entire region.