Dr Omar Zakhilwal’s speech delivered at 13th ECO summit in Islamabad

“Honourable Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, In the spirit of today’s summit: connectivity, regional economic integration, cooperation, greater movement of goods and people; and in the spirit of ECO Vision 2025 and the ECO Islamabad Declaration that will be adopted later today and will go down as this Summit’s success stories, it will be the right message if Your Excellency instruct an immediate opening of our formal trade and transit routes between our two brotherly countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have now been closed for about two weeks, without adequate reasons, causing enormous hardship to ordinary people and a lot of damage to traders on both sides”.

Above, part of Dr Omar Zakhilwal’s speech delivered at 13th ECO summit in Islamabad. Full speech below:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیمِ

Mr. Chair, Hon. Prime Minister of Pakistan

Hon. Secretary General

Excellencies Heads of States

Distinguished delegates, Ladies, and Gentlemen

It is a distinct pleasure for me and my delegation to represent our leadership and our country at the 13th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) here in Islamabad. I would like to express my gratitude and sincere appreciation to the government and people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the excellent organization of this Summit and the warm hospitality extended to us.

Let me also take this opportunity and congratulate HE Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, for a successful completion of his tenure as ECO’s Chairman and HE Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, for his election as the Chairperson of ECO. I trust HE’s wise leadership will lead ECO to new heights. On behalf of Afghanistan, I assure our full support and cooperation. I also take this opportunity and thank the ECO Secretary General and his team for their hard work, preparing the required documents and proposals that have facilitated helpful discussion among the member states. I would also like to express my profound gratitude to all leaders who expressed here today their strong support for peace, stability, and development in my war-devastated country.

Honorable Chair,

The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) is one of the oldest and most important regional forums, covering unique geostrategic location that could link Europe to China, and Russia and Central Asia to South Asia and the Middle East.

ECO’s core objectives to achieve collective economic prosperity and sustainable economic growth for all through regional connectivity and economic cooperation fall within Afghanistan’s regional policies and endeavors. The Heart of Asia (the Istanbul Process) and RECCA are two Afghan-led initiatives, which are aimed to enhance regional connectivity and trust.

Honorable Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite ECO’s unique position and our region’s endowment with significant economic power, vast natural resources, dynamic workforce and huge development potentials that could have been harnessed in the interest of all our nations, our region still remains perhaps the least connected in the world. Without connectivity, we cannot be bridges or gateways even within ourselves let alone to the rest of the world.

Less than 10 percent of the ECO member states’ trade is intra-regional; compare that to 70% in Europe and about 50% in Asia as a whole. Tourism between us, that signifies people to people contact, is also at the lowest of any region. There is no wonder why our region’s share of the global market continues to be insignificant, with poverty and vulnerability increasingly prevalent.

Many of our challenges are shared and require collective actions. In order to unlock our individual potential, we need to reshape our policies that promote peace, stability, and trust as core objectives. In addition, they should be aimed at removing existing barriers to trade, transit, and greater connectivity and develop our capacities and physical infrastructure. Within our region, we are diverse with what we offer to each other: Some of us are resource and energy-rich while others are manufacturing, and technology-advanced, thus making connectivity and economic integration complementing to each other’s economies.

Honorable Chair,

There is no shortage of ideas and potential projects. Regional projects that are relevant to my country alone run into a long list: TAPI, CASA, TUTAP, Railways, Highways, Motorways to name a few. There is no lack of understanding of the benefits from connectivity either; not just its benefits for development & economics but for peace and stability as well. There is also a consensus that regional economic interdependency is the hope for a durable peace and stability in this region. Yet progress towards our regional objectives is slow at best. Perhaps because our national policies towards each other are not economic-centric.

Moreover, regional projects, because they are potential and any major one is not yet actualized so that people are touched by them, they are not yet relevant in domestic politics and policies of our countries. To the extent that we push for regional connectivity and economic integration we put stability as a precondition, rather than presenting regional connectivity as a contributor to stability so that connectivity could get more prominence. Perhaps, it could also help if the current order in which: peace and stability objectives are pursued mostly bilaterally and connectivity multilaterally within our region could be reversed.

Honorable Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan welcomes and endorses the ECO VISION 2025, its implementation plan as well as the ECO VISION FUND with its financing modalities. Realization of this vision, which if implemented will have a direct impact on the well-being of our people, will require more than what is decided upon today. It will require a revision in our respective national policies concerning our bilateral and regional relations. We cannot be for regional connectivity if at the same time we continue to implement barriers to trade and transit and movement of people between us.

The theme of this Summit “Connectivity for Regional Prosperity” could find more meaning if separate economics from politics and in fact give economics a chance to help some of our politics. We need to make regional connectivity and economic integration part and parcel of our domestic development agendas. We need to embark on embedding our security objectives in our economic agenda rather than the other way around. We need to make good on delivering at least one major regional economic project so that people see the benefits for themselves and this way are encouraged to get involved in pushing their governments for regional economic connectivity and thus regional peace. We need to collectively encourage our international partners to invest in connectivity as part of their security and stability agenda for this region.

Honorable Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

In the spirit of today’s summit: connectivity, regional economic integration, cooperation, greater movement of goods and people; and in the spirit of ECO Vision 2025 and the ECO Islamabad Declaration that will be adopted later today and will go down as this Summit’s success stories, it will be the right message if Your Excellency instruct an immediate opening of our formal trade and transit routes between our two brotherly countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have now been closed for about two weeks causing enormous hardship to ordinary people and a lot of damage to traders on both sides.

In conclusion, the Honorable Chair, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to reiterate Afghanistan’s commitment to the realization of the goals and objectives of the ECO and once again, I wish to extend my warmest gratitude to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the warm hospitality and a very well-organized meeting.

Thank you

The Afghan Tribune | Web Desk | Published: March 07, 2017, 09:40 AM

 

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