ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan has refused to send high-level representation in the Economic Cooperation Organisation’s (ECO) summit being hosted by Pakistan as tensions between the two countries over terror sanctuaries remain unresolved.
Neither Afghan President Ashraf Ghani nor Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah would be attending the event. Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani would also stay away from the 10-member ECO meetings. A session of the council of ministers is being held on Tuesday (today). Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and president’s special envoy Dr Omar Zakhilwal would instead be attending, the Afghan foreign ministry and hosts Pakistan said on Monday as a meeting of senior officials of participating countries concluded.
Editorial: Pak-Afghan ties
Heads of states or governments of all other countries, except Uzbekistan whose deputy prime minister is coming to the summit, have confirmed their participation in the event.
The already tense relations with Afghanistan got further frayed earlier this month following a spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, which the government blamed on terrorist sanctuaries on Afghan soil. The Pakistan Army closed border crossings with Afghanistan to protest Kabul’s inaction against terrorist groups targeting Pakistan and shelled the alleged sanctuaries along the border.
Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz had over the weekend said that Pakistan and Afghanistan were negotiating a joint mechanism for dealing with concerns over terrorism. He expressed the hope that progress would take place on the sidelines of the summit.
Neither side would say what has been the fate of their talks on the proposed mechanism, but Afghanistan’s decision against high-level representation suggests that they have failed to make headway.
Kabul has so far been weighing whether or not it should attend at the highest level. Mr Aziz had earlier said that Foreign Minister Rabbani’s participation was confirmed, but Pakistan was expecting higher level attendance.
“We want Afghanistan to join this journey of prosperity as a peaceful neighbour,” Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said, adding that Pakistan wanted peace in Afghanistan and was ready to do all for that, but expected Kabul to prevent its soil from being used against Pakistan.
The ECO summit is aiming at promoting connectivity and cooperation in energy, infrastructure, transport and trade sectors. Islamabad Declaration, which would be adopted at the end of the summit, Mr Aizaz said, would underscore the significance of more connectivity and cooperation for the benefit of people of the region.
Afghanistan enjoys a central position in this plan, which, analysts fear, could be disturbed due to its lesser involvement in connectivity plans.
But the foreign secretary rejected this perception, suggesting that connectivity was possible even without Afghanistan becoming part of it. “When the corridor (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) enters western China (from Pakistan), connectivity already exists with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and through them Kazakhstan can be connected.”
He, however, said that Afghanistan could be included in the connectivity plans once stability returned there. “That requires stability in Afghanistan,” he emphasised.
“Such a high-level participation (in the ECO summit) is not common. It shows Pakistan was never isolated and would never be isolated. No one can do so,” the foreign secretary said.
Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2017