Pakistan urges operationalisation of Afghan trade corridors | The Express Tribune


Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has urged operationalisation of the transit corridors through Afghanistan for the transit trade of all Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) members, especially its five landlocked states.

The minister made these remarks while addressing the 25th Council of Ministers Meeting of the ECO in the Ashgabat capital of Turkmenistan on Saturday.

Qureshi termed the opening of the several ECO transport corridors as the most vital objective. “I would like to welcome the operationalisation of the Istanbul-Tehran-Islamabad (ITI) road corridor.”

In addition to Taftan, Pakistan has notified Gabd-Reemdan border Crossing Point as a TIR [International Road Transport] station, he added.

The foreign minister termed restoration of peace and stability in Afghanistan vital for the purpose. “We must all provide humanitarian and economic assistance to Afghanistan and its people to prevent massive human sufferings and economic collapse.”

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He further stated that the member states must encourage new authorities in Kabul to promote inclusive governance, respect for human rights, including women’s rights, and action against terrorism, to fully stabilise Afghanistan

“The six-neighbours format, which Pakistan initiated, offers an effective modality to promote stabilisation in Afghanistan,” he added.

CPEC, other projects

“In tandem, we must support early implementation of the agreed projects involving Afghanistan: the TAPI gas pipeline, the CASA 1000 electricity grid, and the Trans-Afghan railways connecting Termez-Mazar-e-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar,” Qureshi said.

He hoped hope the region will also benefit from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “We must also identify, prepare and implement additional cross-border projects among ECO countries.”

Free trade zone

FM Qureshi opined a more targeted effort is required to identify and promote trade among ECO members, as envisaged in the ECO’s Trade Agreement (ECOTA).

He stressed that it is time to emulate other regional entities, such as ASEAN and African Union, by creating an ECO regional free trade zone. This, he added, will encourage larger mutual investments, common supply chains, enhanced productivity and competitiveness of ECO economies.

Boosting economies

“Strengthening the role of ECO Bank and operationalisation of ECO Reinsurance Company can positively contribute to our trade, investment and integration objectives,” the minister said.

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According to him, financing should also be mobilised through multilateral, regional and national development banks, private markets, to achieve ECO’s trade and development objectives.

Qureshi highlighted that as recognised in Vision 2025, the ECO economies will be dynamic only if they are knowledge-based and digitalised.

“In this context, we welcome the establishment of the Research and Development Centre in Azerbaijan, which would serve as a mechanism for scientific and technology information exchange as well as for collaboration in R&D [research and development] and technology applications.”

Global digital economy

He further said that the integration of ECO members in the emerging global digital economy will determine if they can sustain dynamic growth and stay internationally competitive. “We must develop and implement ECO projects for the installation of broadband and other IT hardware and software, and the training of a digital workforce.”

He added that to derive full advantage from its geographical location, ECO must promote a confluence of interests and cooperation with China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). “The ECO Secretariat could prepare a study on how best to develop such cooperation,” he said.

Qureshi said: “The ECO should also study the potential for ECO trade and mutual cooperation with all markets adjacent to the ECO region – China, Russia, Europe, ASEAN, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the African Union.”

This, he maintained, could lead to the identification of specific cooperative projects with governments or entities from these regions.

Tackling Covid-19

To recover from the pandemic, ECO members must prioritise vaccination and the related health response. We must insist on equity in the production, distribution and availability of the “Covid-19 vaccines for all our peoples”.

Future prospects

He reminded the forum that all ECO member states are developing countries and stressed working together within the Group of 77 & China to realise our common goals of prosperity and development, particularly through the implementation of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals].

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“The ECO should play an active and influential role within this group. Next year, Pakistan will assume its Chair. We look forward to the support of the ECO members for advancing our shared objectives,” he added.

While concluding, Qureshi said: “As members of the ECO, I hope that we will also join hands in countering Islamophobia and promoting the legitimate rights of all Muslim peoples, especially the right to self-determination and liberation of the peoples of Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir.”

Earlier, the minister said that Pakistan attaches high priority to the ECO which groups 10 of our most important regional partners.

“We believe the ECO has significant potential to emerge as a powerful regional entity: resources, enterprising people, geographical contiguity and a strategic location at the centre of Eurasia, he said.

He also stated that Pakistan appreciates the the progress report prepared by the forum regarding the objectives of the ECO Vision 2025, as well as with regard to the impact of Covid-19 on the member states.

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