Ghani refuses to participate in ECO

Pakistan on Monday insisted that it is well connected with rest of the world and no other country, group or individual can isolate it through any propaganda, as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused to participate in the 13th Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO) Summit to be hosted by Islamabad on Wednesday [tomorrow].

Briefing reporters after the conclusion of two-day senior officials meeting of ECO member countries, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that five heads of state, three heads of the government and one deputy prime minister [Uzbekistan] would participate in the ECO Summit on Wednesday.

Afghanistan would participate at the level of its ambassador to Pakistan who would represent Afghan president as his special envoy, he added.

Those who would attend the summit include Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon and President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Bakytzhan Sagintayev, Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Deputy Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Rustam Azimov have also confirmed their participation.

The foreign dignitaries would start arriving in Islamabad today (Tuesday). Sources privy to the development said that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refused his country’s participation at the highest political level at the Summit apparently due to the ongoing tension between the two neighbours in the wake of fresh spate of terror incidents in Pakistan which led to exchange of blame game with regard to terrorists’ safe havens in each other country.

On Saturday, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz indicated that Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani had confirmed his participation in the Summit but he added that efforts are under way to ensure Afghanistan’s participation at the highest political level.

“We’ve stated it repeatedly that Pakistan was never isolated nor it could be…no country, group or individual can isolate Pakistan [through any agenda]…Be confident that Pakistan will keep continue its positive approach,” the foreign secretary remarked when asked whether Afghanistan’s refusal to participate at the highest level in the Summit was due to pressure from Indian government the way New Delhi.

He insisted that Pakistan is pursuing agenda of good neighbourliness also with Afghanistan and India. “We want peace in Afghanistan and, we are pursuing this agenda of a peaceful Afghanistan and also hope that Afghanistan should ensure that its soil is not used against Pakistan,” he said, adding Pakistan is taking all possible security measures and expects Afghanistan to join Pakistan in the journey of progress as a good neighbour.

The foreign secretary said the special focus of the ECO Summit would be on four areas, namely connectivity in energy, infrastructure, transport connectivity and trade among the 10-member states of the ECO including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

He said co-operation in these sectors has a message of prosperity and development for the whole region and the people of the region and beyond. He said that draft of the Islamabad Declaration of the 13th ECO Summit has been finalised which is focussing on the connectivity among the member states.

He said a declaration will be adopted in the meeting of the heads of state and governments of the member states chaired by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday.

He said the recommendations of the Senior Officials Meeting will be presented to the Council of Ministers meeting of ECO member states to be held in Islamabad today (Tuesday). He said that Pakistan has received positive response from the member states, adding participation of the heads of state and the government in the summit is their confidence in Pakistan.

This Summit has special importance because the ECO region and the member states have made tremendous developments in connectivity during the last three to four years, he said, adding these projects have opened up new avenues for development and prosperity of the region.

He said Pakistan has also taken a number of initiatives for connectivity with the Central Asian states through Afghanistan, Iran and China as well as landmark China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

To a query, he said that Pakistan has achieved great successes in the war against terrorism and this shows the commitment of the political and military leadership and people of the country to eradicate the menace of terrorism and extremism from the country.

Later, a statement issued after the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), stated that the meeting was chaired by Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry and was attended by senior officials from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Secretary General of ECO, Halil Ibrahim Akca as well as representatives of the ECO Specialised Agencies and Regional Institutions were also present.

The Senior Officials Meeting deliberated, inter alia, on issues such as the work plan of ECO, reports and recommendations emanating from sectoral meetings, follow-up of the implementation on decision of the previous ministerial meetings as well as preparation for the 22nd COM and the 13th Summit.

The agenda for the 22nd ECO Council of Ministers Meeting (COM), to be held on 28 February, 2017, was also finalised.

The secretary general of the ECO presented a report containing activities of the ECO since the 12th Summit of the Organisation in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The SOM approved the ECO Vision 2025 and decided to place it before the Council of Ministers meeting to be held today (Tuesday). The Vision document outlines tangible goals for the Organisation in various areas of co-operation including trade and transit in medium-term.

The SOM agreed on text of Islamabad Declaration and recommended its approval by the COM. The Islamabad Declaration 2017 contains the salient points of co-operation among the members of ECO in the fields of connectivity, trade, transport, energy, etc.

The senior officials appreciated the initiatives being pursued by the Organisation in various sectors. The participants also exchanged views on the ongoing activities and projects and future programme of action in various key areas.

-Business Recorder