Speaking at the 12th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit that concluded at Baku, Azerbaijan, on Tuesday, President Asif Zardari rightly noted that the members kept only relating its potential rather than acting on the agreements that had already been signed by them. Potential, he pointed out, was mentioned in the Treaty of Izmir and in the pledges of leaders since the organisation was established in 1985. He particularly referred to the agreement on trade liberalisation and the removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and suggested that the summit should resolve to put it into effect from January 1 next year, at the same time asked for facilitating the private sector. The 10 ECO countries comprising Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan could develop intra-organisation trade in a host of goods. In this connection, the proposal about the Gul Train (as the ECO train is called after the Turkish President) should be implemented to enhance the prospects of trade. Most of the member countries, for instance, are rich in energy resources. Hence, Mr Zardari’s most appropriate call for regional connectivity that would let, among other things, energy to “flow from energy rich states to energy deficient countries in the region” while also he urged that “oil and gas pipelines and power grids must be built”. Mr Zardari also demanded concerted action of all the states to put an end to the scourge of terrorism.

The President had separate meetings with leaders of some participating countries on the sidelines of the summit. In his encounter with Iranian President Mehmoud Ahmadinejad both saw the need for early implementation of mega projects already agreed between their countries like the Iran-Pakistan pipeline; 1000MW Taftan-Quetta power transmission line; 100MW Gwadar power project; Noshki-Dalbandin section of the highway project; and upgradation of Quetta-Taftan railway track. It is incomprehensible why little progress is being made on these projects that would go a long way towards boosting bilateral trade and bringing prosperity to the two peoples. The energy related projects, especially, should get top priority to overcome the shortages that are causing prolonged electricity loadshedding in Pakistan to which gas rationing is also being added and resulting in not only public hardship, but also ruining the economy. Mr Zardari also met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyab Erdogan and discussed with him matters of mutual interests, including the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

It is a pity that the ECO, set up as far back as 27 years ago, has failed to have its impact felt, unlike the EU and the Asean, which are flourishing. One would earnestly wish and hope that members of the ECO realise the urgent need to turn the ideas about cooperation among one another into reality.