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February 12, 2018

A significant membership


February 12, 2018

During a meeting with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Secretary-General Rashid Alimov on February 6, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed support for the organisation’s connectivity initiatives.

The prime minister also offered to connect CPEC with SCO’s six approved routes, observing that it would greatly enhance their vitality to serve as a conduit linking China, Russia, Central Asia and the Eurasian landmass with the Arabian Sea. He also expressed unflinching support for SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure. The secretary-general appreciated Pakistan’s active participation in all activities of the organisation. Alimov said that the inclusion of countries like Pakistan had greatly strengthened SCO, which emerged as a true trans-regional and trans-continental organisation and plays a multifaceted role in world affairs.

Few would like to take issue with what the prime minister and the SCO’s secretary general said. 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. The country had been vying to become a member of this regional organisation whose goals resonated with its national ethos and quest for a peaceful neighbourhood. In my discourses on the regional situation and the emerging security scenario, I have invariably argued that Pakistan’s security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked to the region it belongs to.

Pakistan was also a good addition to the SCO and added vitality to it as it possesses great 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, it offers the SCO enormous opportunities for mutual beneficial cooperation and to fulfil the vision of the organisation. CPEC, which is the pivot of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, also complements the SCO’s vision of connectivity and economic integration.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which was launched on June 15, 2001, 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 and disarming 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 and diplomatic matters as well as trade and other spheres. After Uzbekistan was admitted into the group, it was renamed as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and a new charter was drawn up, expounding its purposes and principles, organisational structure, form of operation, cooperation, orientation and external relations.

According to the charter, the main objectives of the SCO are strengthening mutual trust and good relations with neighbours and friendship among the member states; developing effective cooperation in political affairs, economy and trade, culture, education, energy and environmental protection; 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 other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and 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-Terrorist Structure (RATS) with the purpose of enhancing cooperation among the member states to deal with terrorism, separatism and extremism.

The SCO is unique in the sense that it is based on a new model of state-to-state relationship. This model 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 is very much in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and needs desperately. Pakistan’s resolve to look to its own region to find solutions for its economic woes and other debilitating challenges, represents a visionary paradigm shift in foreign relations.

The presence of giants like Russia and China in the organisation, along with the Central Asian States rich in natural resources, promise infinite opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region. Granting the observer status to Afghanistan and associating Turkey with the SCO has further strengthened the organisation. The economic linkages evolved through SCO’s forum will also strengthen the prospects for regional security.

Pakistan presently faces an existentialist threat from terrorism and religious extremism and the organisation’s member states are also victims of this menace in varying degrees. Focusing on a common cause and fighting collectively to put an end to it stands a better chance of success and Pakistan can contribute to this effort as well as benefit from it tremendously. A severe energy crisis also confronts Pakistan and the materialisation of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline and other trans-regional power and gas projects – for which Russia has already expressed support in material terms – could help it overcome the problem and nudge the process of economic revival.

Pakistan is also presently diversifying its exports and finding new and easily accessible markets for its products. The SCO states constitute a lucrative market for Pakistan’s products as they comprise almost one-fourth of the world’s population, are in Pakistan’s geographical proximity. Similarly, it can attract investments required in the energy and infrastructure sectors 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 SCO members to exploit their economic potential. With the prospects of Afghanistan, Iran and, possibly, Turkey joining the organisation in the near future, the SCO is likely to emerge as a very strong regional group.

The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to work together to create and promote 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 designed for its own perceptions – which, in certain cases, has created more threats for world peace and security – the role of SCO in firming up the new order and eliminating this region’s vulnerabilities against foreign intervention, assumes greater significance.

Such regional organisations are perhaps the best forums to strengthen regional security and preserve world peace. The foregoing facts made a very strong case for Pakistan to seek membership of the SCO and present itself the historic opportunity to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. The foreign policy of Pakistan has finally found the right direction that promises to serve its national interests.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: [email protected]

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