Making Sense at ECO


Nobody would have disagreed with President Arif Alvi, at the recent summit of heads of state of ECO (Economic Cooperation Organisation), that inter-regional trade is at an unacceptably low level and everything possible must be done to raise it. Currently, commerce between ECO member states is only eight percent of their overall trade, which is a reflection of the non-serious nature in which this platform has been handled so far. He was also right that countries in the group have everything that is needed to ramp up trade and revenue, which makes the failure to explore its true potential all the more bewildering. Still, now that the problem has been identified, yet again, hopefully something will also be done to solve it.
There can also be no denying that the situation in Afghanistan provides a very good opportunity for ECO to get in the game as well. The best way to help Afghanistan, or any country in the modern setting for that matter, is to increase trade with it. That’s a much better way of generating foreign exchange than relying on loans and grants, which place back-breaking pressure on reserves in the medium- and long-term. But if something on these lines is going to be worked out it will have to be done very quickly because with sanctions ruling out any direct aid to the country and American pressure keeping its central bank’s reserves frozen in international banks, it won’t take long for Afghanistan to collapse without substantial outside help.
The UN has repeatedly warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, complete with bank runs and famines, unfolding there in the very near future. Therefore, ECO’s combined call on the US to release Afghanistan’s frozen money ought to make more difference than individual voices calling for the same thing. The Pakistani president made some very valid points at the summit. Perhaps, being the closest country to Afghanistan and also the one to lose the most in case of a renewed crisis there, Pakistan should also take the lead in pulling ECO towards greater trade within itself and also with Afghanistan. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, after all.