The Islamabad Summit: Geopolitical Significance and Azerbaijan's Input

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Baku, 17 March 2017 –

The capital of Pakistan hosted the 13th Summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization. The event had drawn great deal of attention. According to the experts, that gathering had a certain impact on many of the issues of global geopolitical relevance. Performance of the ECO member states with respect to prospects of regional cooperation in the South Asia is especially important. The large countries that are represented within the ECO can also influence the dynamics of the processes in the Middle East. Moreover, the ECO is actively involved in such areas as transportation, trade, economy, security and energy. Azerbaijan’s energetic performance within the organization is well-acknowledged. President Ilham Aliyev’s profoundly substantiated speech at the Islamabad Summit garnered attention in light of the aforementioned aspects.

ECO in International Arena: Prospects and Opportunities

The number of experts has expressed opinion regarding the geopolitical motives of the holding of the Economic Cooperation Organization’s 13th Summit in the capital of Pakistan. They believe that the very event played a significant role in boosting Islamabad’s clout and rejecting the idea of the former being isolated in the region. According to Russian orientalist V. Belokrentisky, "Indeed, this bears great significance for Pakistan. Seemingly, Islamabad is responding to challenges coming from Delhi as India attempts to force Pakistan out of the regional cooperation in the South Asia'' (see: Исламабад вывел из спячки группу из 10 стран / "Независимая газета", 2 March 2017). In response, Pakistan opts to develop cooperation with the Muslim nations.

Interestingly, Iran’s "Tehran Times'' newspaper chose to emphasize the frictions among the three powerful members of the organization – Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. That they fail to find common ground of the issues related to the Middle East. Iran buttresses Bashar Assad while Turkey sides with the opposition. Rajab Tayyip Erdogan was quoted saying that Iran is trying to destabilize the situation in the region (see: previous reference).

Experts recognize the geopolitical importance of the Islamabad Summit and evaluate that event in the regional and global geopolitical processes context; hence, the emphasis on geopolitical differences. The ECO members are capable of leveraging the developments in certain regions and this implies that the organization already has the potential to shape the geopolitical environment.

That said, certain experts are not so convinced that the ECO has the means necessary to make a profound impact (see: previous reference). Absence of an economic driving force country and low chance of any nation stepping into the leader’s shoes are among the key factors. Yet this is a claim hard to agree with given that Pakistan, Turkey and Iran are the countries that play a serious role in the international politics. Consolidation of their prowess could translate into something positive. On the other hand, history of the ECO’s performance demonstrates that a lot has already been accomplished.

Certainly, there is one aspect highlighted by "Tehran Times'' that cannot be disregarded. According to this newspaper, the ECO has failed to develop a common, integration-oriented economic policy which remains a crucial factor for the organization. However, it has to be recognized that the common economic policy is a product of closer engagement which presumes presence of shared economic and foreign policy interests among the member states. And regrettably, this is where the large nations of the Muslim world are yet to speak in unison.

Furthermore, according to the ECO’s charter, the primary objectives of the organization include cementing economic ties, ensuring sustainable economic development, integration to the world economy, development of transportation and communication systems, liberalization of economy, promotion of inter-regional trade and efficient use of financial resources of the ECO region.

Today, the ECO stands as an important regional organization and it continues to evolve. It must be noted that the ECO was granted an observer status with the UN at the 48th General Assembly in 1993 and with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation in 1994. This proves that the ECO has not been going in circles and has already elevated to the level of a constantly evolving alliance.

Baku’s New Energy Strategy: New Phase of Regional Cooperation

Azerbaijan’s contribution to the development of the ECO has been a significant one. Our country has hosted two summits of this organization in 2006 and 2012. Baku enjoys good relations with all the member states. Azerbaijan’s leadership continues to pursue beneficial cooperation. In his remarks at the Islamabad Summit President Aliyev reiterated that the ECO was the product of our political will to cooperate closely for the benefit of our peoples. And that the member states share common history, culture, traditions and religion (see: Prezident İlham Əliyev İslamabadda İqtisadi Əməkdaşlıq Təşkilatının XIII Sammitində iştirak edib / AZƏRTAC, 1 March 2017).

Azerbaijan’s head of state stressed that during the chairmanship of Azerbaijan our country made great contributions to the ECO’s development and deepening of regional cooperation. The official Baku has spared no effort to "promote the ECO not just as a physical bridge between East and West and North and South, but also as a place which unites different civilizations and cultures'' (see: previous reference). He went to say that Azerbaijan considers ECO as an important international organization and that he was sure that the role of ECO in international economic cooperation would grow in the future.   

Namely, Azerbaijan had been an initiator and active participant of number of projects within the ECO in such areas as transportation, energy, regional integration and socioeconomic development. Baku is also making serious input into cooperation along the North-South and East-West directions. One of the telling examples can be its involvement in the New Silk Road project.

Apart from that, Azerbaijan is actively pursuing a new level of cooperation in the ECO region in the information-communication technology area. Remarks of the Azerbaijan’s President are supported by the facts that Azerbaijan hosted the First and Second Baku Forums of Economic Think Tanks of ECO member states and also of other events aimed at addressing healthcare, renewable energy, oil and gas, taxes and disaster management (see: previous reference).

Azerbaijan’s achievements in the energy field contribute greatly to the growth of the ECO. Ilham Aliyev made some interesting remarks on the subject, "Azerbaijan has proposed a new energy strategy and a new vision for energy cooperation. Azerbaijan has become an important partner in providing energy security in a broader region. We created the infrastructure of diversified pipelines by linking the Caspian Sea, with Black Sea and the Mediterranean (see: previous reference).

In other words, as a member of the ECO, Azerbaijan is also an initiator of new energy strategy and cooperation. We believe that this aspect deserves a particular analysis. Furthermore, Azerbaijan has made significant contributions in the Muslim world in the transportation, trade, sports, ICT and other areas. Declaration of this year as the Year of Islamic Solidarity and holding of Islamic Solidarity Games in Azerbaijan are among the crucial factors in this regard.

President of Azerbaijan had also informed the event’s participants about the official Baku’s performance in ensuring security and stability and efforts to restore the country’s territorial integrity. Baku remains committed to the peaceful resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh conflict and increases its engagement to that end. Yet, the likes of the ECO also need to boost their influence over such matters. This is crucial for ensuring stability in the Muslim world and around the globe.

The aforementioned is the testimony to the increasingly evident footprint of the ECO in the world affairs. Azerbaijan is involved resolutely in this process and President Ilham Aliyev spares no efforts to see that Azerbaijan is at the forefront of all developments within the organization.

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