The preparations for the 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit 2017 have been completed. Pakistan’s part as host entails that it makes all the necessary security arrangements in addition to the logistical support for the ten nations in attendance. Founded by Pakistan, Turkey and Iran, the organisation now includes Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Afghanistan.

However, this year’s theme, ‘Connectivity for Regional Prosperity’ seems half pointless for the regional interests of Pakistan after President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan announced that he would not be attending – Afghanistan would instead be represented by the country’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal.

On the face of it, this might not look to be the biggest problem, but the attendance of each head of state is something of a tradition, and necessary to ensure that this summit also results in actually achieving goals instead of merely discussing matters without an endpoint in mind. A head of state would directly have the power to make lasting policy decisions where an ambassador might not. ECO’s ultimate objective of making the region a free-market area, much like the EU, cannot be achieved unless all countries are fully on board, and right now, Afghanistan clearly isn’t.

Even though Pakistan has currently closed its border with Afghanistan, the two countries are signatories to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), which means that there must be provisions for the free flow of goods across the border. Under normal circumstances, Pakistan has been more than happy to facilitate this, but the rising incidence of terror attacks and their links to the western border cannot simply be ignored.

Pakistan is also feeling the effects of this new arrangement, as its cement exports to Afghanistan have already fallen, with India quickly filling in the gaps. Flour exports have also suffered, with Kazakhstan exporters replacing the Pakistani ones. This is exactly why Pakistan must not alienate Afghanistan any further, even though its growing closeness to India and the presence of Pakistani terror groups on Afghan soil might be hard to ignore.

Opening the border and allowing for talks on counter-terrorism are key. The blame game from either side must stop – Pakistan, being in a relatively stable condition in comparison to Afghanistan – should realise that if it can profess to not control the presence of Afghan militants on domestic soil, Afghanistan will have an infinitely harder time doing so on the flip side. If Pakistan wants terror exports from Afghanistan to stop, it must offer a helping hand instead of closing its borders and forcing Afghanistan to deal with its problems on its own.