ISLAMABAD: The coming 13th summit of the 10-member Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) will focus on strengthening transport and cyber linkages between the member states.

The summit being held on Wednesday in Islamabad will be preceded by meetings of the council of foreign ministers on Tuesday and senior officials on Sunday (today) and Monday. The summit theme is ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’.

This is the second time that Pakistan is hosting an ECO summit. It last hosted the third summit in May 1995.

All members have confirmed their participation at the head of state/government level except for Uzbekistan that will be represented by its deputy prime minister and Afghanistan which is still thinking over the level of representation after the latest row with hosts Pakistan over terrorist sanctuaries.

Representatives of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations will attend as observers.

“High level participation of the member states will greatly enhance the vitality and substance of the summit,” Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said at a media briefing on the summit.

The summit comes as redemption for Pakistan that was prevented from hosting South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation summit last year after India refused to participate and most of its regional allies followed suit.

The ECO summit, which is being held after a gap of five years, takes place as major realignments are under way in the region with China and Russia becoming increasingly assertive, which to a certain extent can contribute to the region’s integration. The situation is, however, being complicated by uncertain future of Iran’s nuclear deal with the West and continued instability in Afghanistan.

At the summit Pakistan will in particular seek to promote the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which it sees as a game-changer for the entire region, and explore the prospects of connecting it with other similar trade, transport and energy corridors in the region.

“The CPEC is an outstanding example of the summit’s theme of connectivity. It will augment existing and planned transit and energy corridors in the ECO region for greater progress and prosperity for our peoples,” Mr Aziz said.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2017

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