Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opened a key economic summit Wednesday aimed at improving regional trade ties and calling for greater collaboration in the areas of business, energy and infrastructure development.
Islamabad is hosting the 10-nation Economic Cooperation Organization summit to finalize a Vision 2025 plan for expanding trade and prosperity among member nations.
"There has never been a more opportune time to realize our dreams of connectivity for regional prosperity," said Sharif, who was elected new chairman of the organization. "We can and should achieve even more by pooling together our individual efforts for greater synergy."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are among the heads of state in attendance. Turkey, Iran and Pakistan founded ECO in 1985.
Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, said that peace and stability in the region will play a greater role in achieving mutual economic goals.
"We can meet the challenges of poverty by implementing a joint strategy," he said.
The summit is taking place under tight security after a wave of recent suicide bombings by several different militant groups killed more than 125 people. All roads leading to the summit venue have been blocked and all offices, schools and most businesses in Islamabad have been closed.
Pakistan's ongoing war with local and al-Qaeda-linked foreign Islamic militants has killed tens of thousands of people. But Islamabad is using the ECO summit as a chance to show investors its potential as one of Asia's emerging markets.
"Our economic indicators are up," Sharif told the meeting.
Government officials have also described the summit as an opportunity to show that Pakistan cannot be isolated from the international scene. Last year Pakistan had to cancel a key regional cooperation conference after neighboring India and Afghanistan refused to attend; both nations blame Pakistani-based militants for carrying out attacks in their countries, and tensions with India have been high over cross-border violence in the disputed Kashmir region.