The 18th SCO Summit, which was held in the coastal city of Qingdao in China, ended on a promising note. All member states – including Pakistan and India, who are now full members of the organisation – unanimously reiterated their commitment to uphold the SCO’s spirit and re-endorsed the fulfillment of the organisation’s stated objectives.
The communiqué issued at the end of the summit stated that SCO members have consistently given priority to mediating regional conflicts under the norms and principles of international law. As per the document, member states also emphasised the need to continue the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. It also approved the 2019-2021 programme of cooperation for combating terrorism, separatism and extremism with a view to further promote pragmatic cooperation among member states in that respect.
Member countries also highlighted the significance of improving the global economic governance system; consolidating and developing the multilateral trade mechanism, with the World Trade Organization at its core; and building an open world economy. According to the press communiqué, SCO members also emphasised that the organisation had seen “continuously expanding potential for cooperation after the accession of India and Pakistan and had become a unique, influential and authoritative regional organisation”.
Speaking at a joint press conference, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that: “all parties will continue to work in line with the principles of mutual benefit to improve regional economic cooperation arrangement, enhance the Belt and Road Cooperation and complementarity of our respective development strategies, deepen cooperation in business, investment, finance, connectivity and agriculture, advance trade and investment facilitation and foster new prospects for integrated development of the region to deliver benefits to our people and add fresh impetus to global growth”. It was surely an exhaustive resume on what the SCO stood for and cherished.
Pakistan, represented by President Mamnoon Hussain, expressed un-qualified support for the SCO’s connectivity initiatives and its objectives. When Rashid Alimov, the secretary-general of the SCO, visited Pakistan in March, the then PM offered to connect CPEC with the SCO’s six approved routes, observing that it would greatly enhance their significance to become a conduit to link China, Russia, Central Asia and the Eurasian landmass with the Arabian Sea.
Pakistan was formally admitted as a full member of the SCO, along with India, at the 17th SCO summit in Astana on June 9, 2017. It was indeed a momentous day for Pakistan, which had been vying to become a member of this regional organisation for quite some time. The organisation’s goals resonated with our national ethos and quest for a peaceful neighbourhood. With regard to the regional situation and the emerging security scenario, I have been repeatedly emphasised the fact that Pakistan’s security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked to the region it belongs to.
The decision to include Pakistan as a full member of the SCO has added vitality to the organisation as the country has tremendous potential for global and regional trade as well as economic activities. With a consumer market of 200 million people, vast business potential and a rapidly developing infrastructure, Pakistan offers the SCO enormous opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation and to fulfil the vision of the organisation. The CPEC, which is a pivot of the OBOR, also compliments the SCO’s vision of connectivity and economic integration.
The organisation was launched on June 15, 2001 and comprised Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It succeeded the Shanghai Five Mechanism, which was established to strengthen confidence-building measures and disarmament in the border regions of the member states, and resolve border disputes among member countries. The ambit of their cooperation, however, was gradually extended to cover mutually beneficial cooperation in political, security, diplomatic, trade and other areas. After Uzbekistan was admitted into the organisation, it was renamed and a new charter was drawn up, expounding its purposes and principles, organisational structure, form of operation, cooperation, orientation, and external relations.
The SCO is unique because it is based on a new model of state-to-state relationship that derives its strength from cooperative configuration rather than binding them into a formal alliance like Nato. The SCO’s resolve to fight the menace of terrorism, promote regional peace and security, and work for shared economic prosperity are in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and desperately needs. Pakistan’s willingness to look toward its regional neighbours to find solutions to its economic woes and other debilitating challenges represents a visionary paradigm shift in conducting foreign relations.
The presence of Russia and China in the SCO along with the Central Asian States promises infinite opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region. The decision to grant an observer status to Afghanistan and associate Turkey with the SCO has further strengthened the organisation. The economic linkages, which have been evolved through the SCO forum, will also strengthen prospects of regional security.
Pakistan is faced with an existentialist threat from terrorism and religious extremism and the SCO member states have also become victims of this menace in varying degrees. Developing a common cause and fighting collectively to stop it in its tracks stands a better chance of success. Pakistan can contribute to this effort and also benefit from it tremendously. The country is also grappling with a severe energy crisis. As a result, TAPI and other trans-regional power and gas projects – for which Russia has already expressed its support in material terms – could help it tide over the problem and nudge the process of economic revival.
We are also engaged in diversifying our exports, and finding new and accessible markets for our products. The SCO states constitute a lucrative market for its exports. Similarly, it can attract the required investments in the energy and infrastructure sectors in which some SCO countries have a comparative advantage. The strategic location of Pakistan in the region and its economic potential can also help SCO members exploit their economic potential. With the prospects of Afghanistan and Iran, and possibly Turkey, also joining the organisation in the near future, the SCO is likely to emerge as a strong regional body.
The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to work together to create a new political and economic world order. In the prevailing global environment, wherein a sole superpower, supported by its Western allies, is feverishly engaged in fashioning a new world order that has been chiselled on its own perceptions – which, in certain cases, has created more threats for the world peace and security – the role of the SCO in strengthening the new world order and eliminating the vulnerabilities of this region to foreign intervention assumes greater significance.
Regional organisations like the SCO are perhaps the best avenues to strengthen regional security and preserve world peace. The SCO presents an historic opportunity for Pakistan to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. Through the SCO, the foreign policy of Pakistan has finally found the right direction that promises to serve its national interests.
The writer is a freelance contributor.