Pakistan has put in place extremely tight security measures in and around its capital, Islamabad, ahead of Wednesday’s regional economic cooperation summit, where presidents of Iran and Turkey will also be in attendance.
The high-profile meeting of the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization, or ECO, has been convened at a time when Pakistan is experiencing a new wave of deadly suicide bombings and militant attacks.
The anti-state Pakistani Taliban and local affiliates of Islamic State have taken credit for the violence that has claimed scores of lives over the past two weeks.
Foreign ministers and senior representatives from ECO countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, are already in Islamabad and held preparatory talks Tuesday.
Addressing the meeting, Pakistani foreign policy advisor, Sartaj Aziz, underscored the need for member states to collectively work for promoting effective regional economic cooperation to contribute to global peace, stability and prosperity.
“Our region is faced with a number of challenges including extremism, terrorism, drug-trafficking and trans-national organized crimes…Therefore, innovative approaches and concerted efforts would be required for the socio-economic and human development of our peoples,” Aziz explained.
United Nations and Chinese delegations have also arrived to attend the summit as observers.
Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are the founding members of ECO.
Pakistan had to cancel several regional cooperation meetings in recent months because Afghanistan and India boycotted those events. Both the neighboring countries blame Islamabad for supporting terrorist attacks on their respective territories.
Pakistani authorities reject the charges as baseless and instead accuse Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies of jointly sponsoring recent militant attacks in the country.
Advisor Aziz while addressing Tuesday’s meeting recounted Pakistan’s successes against terrorism and extremism, saying they have helped improve national security and economy, and created conditions for international investment in the country.
“We are therefore confident of providing safe transit passage for smooth flow of trade activities without any barriers.”
Despite tensions in bilateral ties, the Afghan government agreed to attend the ECO meeting and is being represented by its ambassador to Islamabad, Hazrat Omer Zakhilwal, who also carries the title of special presidential envoy to Pakistan.