Muhammad Asif Noor
Turkmenistan hosted the 15th Summit of Heads of State of Economic Cooperation Organization with the theme “Together into the Future”. The Summit was chaired by the President of Turkmenistan while the President of Turkey as the Chairman of the previous summit opened the forum. The next Chairman of the ECO summit is the President of Azerbaijan.
Heads of states from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as well as the ECO Secretary General participated. The participants stressed how to increase cooperation on trade, energy, climate, and culture. Sharing country positions, the participating Heads of states addressed the perspectives and future cooperation with the signing of multiple multilateral agreements and Memorandum of Understandings.
ECO is a regional politico-economic organization founded in 1985 in Tehran by Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan. Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan later joined the ECO as full members and regularly take part in the organization’s core activities.
The summit was organized at an important time in the wake of ongoing socio-political developments in the region and the growing need for international cooperation in many areas. It is also enlightening that the issue of Afghanistan was discussed during the summit with consideration that ECO members are key stakeholders of the Afghan peace process being the immediate neighbors of Afghanistan.
All the ECO members share security concerns with Afghanistan and are ready to cooperate for lasting peace because but the success of many development projects such as CASA 1000, TAPI, and UAP railways is deeply linked with stability in Afghanistan. The members vowed to work together to address the regional issues while exploring potential economic opportunities which can make ECO a powerful regional organization in the future.
President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov shared a detailed account of the issue of Afghanistan and called on participants to seriously support the Afghan Peace Process to avert any humanitarian crisis in the country. President of Turkmenistan also highlighted the foreign policy of Turkmenistan that attaches great significance to the ECO. ECO members commit themselves to support the development of critical sectors such as health care, education, and communication. The economy of Afghanistan must be revitalized by the release of frozen funds to avert the collapse of the entire financial system. The absence of Afghanistan from the summit was noticed and the participants hoped for the normalcy of diplomatic operations in Afghanistan.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan participated in the summit and concluded multilateral agreements with Turkmenistan on the sidelines of ECO. Turkey has remained an important part of the ECO providing the utmost dimensions towards regional peace and stability.
President of Pakistan Arif Alvi participated in the summit and underscored that ECO had not been working up to its full potential leaving room for improvement. ECO members are least integrated for trade and investments which can only be improved through encouraging larger investments, competitiveness, productivity, and common supply chains.
The President of Pakistan further proposed to strengthen the ECO Trade and Development Bank for the promotion of business and infrastructure development. He held bilateral meetings with the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
The President of Azerbaijan has participated in the event to highlight the significant contributions made by Azerbaijan at the ECO level. Being a very important regional country, recently Azerbaijan has made a tremendous contribution towards peace and stability in the Caucuses. Being at ECO, OIC, and Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan has a significant role in enriching the entire structures through its activeness. As during the last Summit, ECO Research Center has been chartered and established in Azerbaijan, President of Azerbaijan has also invited the ECO member states to benefit from the initiative.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi attended the summit and called for closer cooperation with the ECO members. He assured the ECO members that the US sanctions do not limit Iranian capability to cooperate with the regional states on the economy, energy, and trade. Turkmen President Berdimuhamedov attended the summit and proposed the development of maritime infrastructure such as the International Sea Port in the Caspian Sea to establish links between Caspian and the Black Sea regions.
Kyrgyzstan President Sadyr Zhaparov highlighted the importance and role of Kyrgyz Republic in promoting peace and harmony in the region. the President proposed to establish mutually beneficial investment cooperation in the field of hydropower within the Economic Cooperation Organization on the basis of public-private partnership and take joint measures to adapt to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Projecting the country’s position at the Summit, the president has called for the peaceful resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan.
President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon and shared the support that Tajikistan put forward in promoting peace and regional development.
President of Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev while sharing his country’s insight spoke on the occasion and presented the vision and prospects of regional partnership in diverse areas including pandemic, trade, industrial cooperation, joint programs for logistic and transport, food security, and green development.
The Prime Minister of Kazakhstan attended the summit and revealed the growing trade volume between the Central Asian States. The trade turnover between the Central Asian States increased to 31% and hit $8.2 billion, 22% higher than 2019 but he stressed the need of capitalizing on the existing potential of ECO to its fullest.
Prime Minister of Kazakhstan identified the Agriculture sector as a key sector and proposed an ECO Food Security Program assisted by efficient joint production of Agri-industry fulfilling the food needs of ECO. Kazakhstan has further proposed to establish an ECO Transport Council to develop trade and transit policy to increase the transportation capacity of ECO states. Prime Minister termed the new corridors the revival of the Silk Road to connect Europe and Asia through Central Asia.
In sum, the participants were in agreement to promote trade volume and trade among members up to the full potential of ECO. The Summit also adopted the Ashgabat Consensus for Action, renewing the Member States’ commitment for the shared progress, prosperity, and development in the region, as well as promotion of ECO as a more effective regional economic forum. In addition, participants supported the Afghan Peace Process which is detrimental to not only regional stability but also for sea and land-based transportation and communication across the region given its centrality. States reiterated to promote unified values driven by cooperation, not confrontation.
*The writer is Director Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies