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Politics of regional integration


June 4, 2018

The first Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Political Parties Forum, held under the banner of the Communist Party of China on May 26, brought together political leaders of around 18 SCO members, observers and dialogue partners to debate the challenges the region is currently facing, exchange governance experience and demonstrate leadership for the future of the organisation.

The forum recognised the role of political parties in forging consensus on the broad aims of the SCO and giving them greater public ownership at the political level. The moot agreed to advocate the ‘Shanghai Spirit’ of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and pursuit of common development. The forum also recognised the common imperatives of regional development and peace, despite different political ideologies and governance models being practised by the member countries. It also represented the widening of the SCO’s scope, which has gone beyond governments and has included political parties, academia and youth and women, giving the SCO a dynamic edge on other regional groups.

The world is undergoing massive transformations that have the potential to impact and redefine the global rules of the game. The fast-evolving political, economic and cultural landscapes require regional countries to be alive to these changes and bring their collective wisdom to make informed decisions. Five dynamics are currently reshaping the global political and economic architecture today.

Firstly, the movement of globalisation which defined and led human progress is under many strains and stresses. The rise of popular nationalism across Europe and North America has posed a challenge to economic globalisation. The countries that were active proponents of free trade and multilateralism are increasingly acquiring nationalistic colours. The impact of this popular nationalism is not just limited to the policies of these countries but is also targeting their local politics, and nature and mode of interaction between different communities, besides also reshaping the contours of their societies. The social fabric, which was built on the liberal values of tolerance, mutual respect and freedom of expression, today runs the risk of exploding.

Secondly, the future of international bodies meant for conflict management and resolution and regulation of relations among countries appears bleak. Part of it may have to do with their failure to evolve in line with the demands of the time. However, it is the conscious efforts of the powerful countries to bypass and belittle these world institutions, such as the UN, that are largely to be blamed. The uncertain future of the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership and Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a sign that the rules that underpinned global consensus-building are under severe attack.

Thirdly, there is now greater talk against free-trade and in favour of protectionism. Economic globalisation is being held responsible for all the economic ills such as increasing unemployment, inequality, economic backwardness and insecurities, without a hoot being given to the more fundamental problems such as protracted overseas wars. This preference for simplistic solutions to complex problems is driven by the imperative to satisfy the inflated expectations of the home constituency. The decision-making on sensitive global issues, with a consideration for political vested interests, constitutes a negative trend and has global implications.

Fourthly, the regional and global security landscape continues to be confronted with dynamic threats. The presence of terrorist organisations in varying hues and colours is worrying. The problem is not just confined to non-state actors rather, indulgence of some states in muzzling voices for the universally sanctioned right to self-determination has resulted in the worst human rights violations.

There is little realisation that without fixing the root causes that spawn militancy, such as poverty, inequality and political conflicts, a durable solution to the menace of terrorism will continue to remain elusive. While quick-fixes are often opted at the cost of serious thinking, making no real headway on the structural side of problem-solving is worrisome. It has been more than 15 years since the world has been facing these challenges.

Fifthly, the economic potential of South and Eurasian regions remains unrealised due to the longest running war in Afghanistan. The war-torn country is strategically and geographically pivotal to fostering inter-regional commerce and trade and connectivity. The fact remains that as long as Afghanistan is unstable, the dream of long-term peace and economic development across the Eurasian region will remain a pipedream.

It is here that the SCO’s Political Parties Forum is critical in promoting peace, stability and regional development. The popular view is that the solution to regional problems lies within. It lies in drawing on the wisdom of political ideals, beliefs and ideologies of the East. Collective political wisdom can be leveraged to break free from the challenges that have held up the region’s progress so far. The region we know by the name of the SCO has a landmass that makes up three-fifth of the whole Euro-Asia and a half of the overall world population. The region produces nearly 20 percent GDP of the world total. It is blessed with abundant natural resources and, above all, industrious, intelligent and hardworking people, whose innovation and entrepreneurial spirit can drive the journey of progress with a mind-boggling speed.

The promise of making the 21st century an Asian Century depends on the vision of the SCO member countries’ vibrancy of ideas and robustness of spirit to overcome the challenges listed above. Above all, it depends upon the loftiness of the ideals championed by the political forces that can serve as a basis for renewed action in the pursuit of common goals of the SCO. The era of geo-politics is behind us. The rules of the game that stemmed from it are no more relevant to how nations will behave in the 21st century. It is the era of geo-economics where economic considerations are reshaping the policies of the countries and nature of trans-national interaction. Those still obsessed with geo-strategic ambitions are wasting incredible opportunities of mutual development.

Pakistan serves as a natural link between the SCO states to connect the Eurasian heartland with the Arabian Sea and South Asia. We offer the critical overland routes and connectivity for mutually beneficial trade and energy transactions, both intra-regionally and inter-regionally. The SCO is better positioned to offer regional solutions to the problems afflicting the Eurasian region. Our shared challenges are also our shared opportunities which we can leverage to our collective advantages.

The SCO’s Political Parties Forum is an incredible opportunity for sharing out-of-the-box and innovative ideas, and benefiting from each other’s experience. The forum was also significant in that it indicated an increasing role of political parties in the development of the SCO. In all the countries, the decision-making on policy, international affairs and strategic direction of the countries is ultimately the responsibility of political leaders, and incorporation of their input in a structured manner will give the SCO more vitality and dynamism to push its agenda much more vigorously.

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