Wednesday December 06, 2023

On the right track

June 14, 2017

After a decade-long status as observer, Pakistan became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on June 9, 2017 along with India. This development undoubtedly reflects the fulfillment of our quest for peace, security and progress within the region and our own borders.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while addressing the SCO summit at Astana, rightly remarked that the organisation’s goals resonate with Pakistan’s national ethos. He said the core values of the SCO and its charter are aligned with our the country’s quest for a peaceful neighbourhood.

In order to gauge the benefits that the membership of the SCO could accrue to Pakistan, we must examine the origins of the organisation and understand its principles and objectives and their relevance to Pakistan’s situation?

The SCO was launched on June 15, 2001. It comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It succeeded the ‘Shanghai Five’ mechanism that was established with the purpose of strengthening confidence-building measures, ensuring disarmament in the border regions of the member states and resolving border disputes among them. However, the ambit of their cooperation was gradually extended to cover mutually beneficial cooperation in political, security, diplomatic, trade, and other spheres.

Following Uzbekistan’s entry into the organisation, a new charter was drawn up for the SCO. According to the new charter, the main purposes of SCO involve: strengthening mutual trust, good neighbourliness and friendship among member states; developing effective cooperation in political affairs, the protection of the economy, trade, culture, education, energy and the environment; working together to maintain regional peace, security and stability and promoting the creation of a new international political and economic order.

The SCO abides by the basic principles of the UN Charter that stipulate respect for each member state’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and advocates non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In January 2004 – in view of the burgeoning phenomenon of terrorism and extremism – the SCO decided to set up the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) of the SCO to enhance cooperation among the member states on issues related to terrorism, separatism and extremism.

The organisation is unique as 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 the shared economic prosperity are very much in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and desperately needs. Pakistan’s resolve to look to the region where it belongs and find solutions to its economic woes and other debilitating challenges represents a paradigm shift in conducting its foreign relations.

The presence of the giants like Russia and China in the SCO along with the Central Asian States – which are rich in natural resources – promise infinite opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region.

Granting observer status to Afghanistan and associating Turkey with the SCO have further strengthened the organisation. The economic linkages evolved through the SCO forum will also strengthen the prospects of regional security. Pakistan currently faces an existentialist threat owing to terrorism and religious extremism and the member states of the SCO are also victims of this menace in varying degrees.

Making a common cause and fighting collectively to stop it in its tracks stands a better chance of success. Pakistan can contribute to this effort as well as benefit from it tremendously. Pakistan is also confronted with a severe energy crisis and the materialisation of Tapi and other trans-regional power and gas projects – for which Russia has already expressed its support in material terms – could help the country tide over the problems and nudge the process of economic revival. Pakistan is also engaged in diversifying its exports and finding new and easily accessible markets for its products.

The SCO states, with almost one-fourth of the world’s population, enjoy geographical proximity with Pakistan and easy accessibility. As a result, they constitute a lucrative market for its exports. Similarly, Pakistan can attract the required investments in the energy and infrastructure sector in which some of the SCO countries have a comparative advantage. The strategic location of Pakistan in the region and its economic potential can also help the SCO members exploit their economic potential. With Afghanistan, Iran and possibly Turkey also joining the organisation in the near future, the SCO is likely to emerge as a strong regional organisation.

The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to create a new political and economic world order. In the prevailing global environment, where a sole superpower, supported by its Western allies, is feverishly engaged in fashioning a new world order chiselled to its own perceptions – which, in certain cases, has created more threats for world peace and security – the role of SCO in eliminating the vulnerabilities of this region to foreign intervention, assumes greater significance.

Regional organisations like the SCO are perhaps the best forums to strengthen regional security and preserve world peace. These facts made a very strong case for Pakistan to seek membership of the SCO and take advantage of a historic opportunity to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. The government is, therefore, moving on the right track.

Since India has also become a member of the SCO, Pakistan has found another international forum to promote its narrative of a ‘peaceful neighbourhood’ and engage India in a meaningful dialogue on recalibrating rift-free relations with the support of other members of the organisation. How well Pakistan employs its diplomatic offensive in this regard will depend on its ability to convince members of the SCO to use their influence on India to resolve issues through a process of sustained dialogue and the Indian response to any such initiative.


The writer is a freelance contributor.