The direction of the old RCD

Spearhead Analysis – 27.03.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Trade, transport and travel was the latest resolve of the former RCD (Regional Cooperation Development) trio.

During the ECO summit trade encapsulated both energy and non oil products. Transport was also discussed in the broader sense of turning the region into an integral part of the global trade network whereas ‘travel’ inclined more towards forsaking contentions over the diverse political and economic regimes within the region and instead encouraging social interactions to propagate acceptance of sorts.

The voices of Turkish officials– urging the regional players to acknowledge that a major focus of global politics revolves around the ECO region and to utilize these opportunities– best sums up the possible vision.

Pakistan in the recent past has initiated several steps towards improving these three T’s. Trade ties with Iran which were marred post 2010 sanctions– are expected to witness a surge as banking channels have been reestablished. Carving out a possible free trade agreement is also in the pipeline. Possibilities of work on the IP gas pipeline –from Pakistan’s end– appears likely. In Order to facilitate traders–it has been decided that the Taftan border would remain operational continuously; the Pakistan Iran joint border commission is also planning on setting up new immigration offices near the border in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s ties with Turkey are on a positive trajectory. Pakistan Turkey FTA is likely to be signed in May– which could re-boost Pakistan’s major exports to Turkey– as it aims to eliminate the additional tariffs imposed those goods by Turkey in 2011. Turkey also remains interested in various development projects related to Pakistan.

However, the vision put forth could face hiccups for as long as a murky cloud looms over Iran-Turkey ties.

Ironically, despite strong vocalisations –it is Turkey that appears to be caught up in the most complicated conundrums.

In the recent past both have taken certain reconciliatory steps. Tariff disagreements regarding the ECO trade agreement were resolved, Turkey and Iran are also aspiring to carve out a bilateral trade agreement. Turkish companies have been eagerly positioning themselves in Iran’s energy sector since last year’s sanction ease. Under the transport transit framework agreement– plans to operationalise Islamabad- Tehran- Istanbul- road and rail networks have been finalised. Despite tensions, Turkey remains a beneficiary of tourism from Iran.

But , flux in Turkey’s stances on Iran , since the Arab spring is noticeable and indicates a  divide over choosing economic goals/regionalism or carving geopolitical spheres of influence guided by multiple objectives.

Since the start of this year so far, During the Munich Security Council in February Turkey expressed its concerns over Iran’s hegemonic aspirations; and during the ECO summit Turkey committed itself thawing relations with Iran.

In the midst of this bipolarity– the most balanced statement appears to have been enunciated recently by the Turkish ambassador to Israel–in which, he clarified that Turkey’s recent choices should not be misconstrued as ‘moving away from the west’ but Turkey believes that a containment of Iran’s nuclear goals is more appropriate than isolating the country in anyway. He also clarified that Turkey stands for the rights of Palestinians– which should not be misrepresented as ‘support for terror’; and urged Israel and other allies to combat the real terrorism threatening the region. This statement nearly outlines a roadmap for Turkey’s multi dimensional goals.

However, Economic integration as opposed to its true sense is almost always intertwined broader political and security objectives. The crumbled visions of the old RCD are familiar to this phenomenon; and The present day ECO– is also a region divided by varied political/economic regimes each guided by its own security concerns– while, standing under the umbrellas of multiple powers.

Therefore, In Conclusion: if recent promises are heartfelt– Owing to their geographical advantages, availability of various energy resources, various technological advantages and human resource–Pakistan, Iran and Turkey still remain the most crucial members of the new ECO–for that, their unity appears to be a prerequisite for regional integration; thus they would have to carefully align their economic goals and ‘pool in’ their advantageous regional ties not only in Central Asia but also the Middle East to improve connectivity.

Secondly, turning the region into a neutralising force –which could cater to and balance clashing interests of the major powers — similar to the ASEAN concept — could further enhance prospects of economic integration , regional connectivity and regional stability; at the same time pave way for broad based foreign ties.