Strong regional cooperation
Since the grant of observer status by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at the Santan Summit meeting of the Organisation in 2005, Pakistan has been striving hard to become a full member of SCO and finally its efforts seem to have succeeded. Both Pakistan and India are likely to be made full member of SCO at the summit meeting scheduled to be held in Ufa, Russia, from 9-10 July. An indication to this effect was given by the Secretary General of SCO Dmitry Mezentsev while speaking to reporters in St Petersberg last Wednesday at the meeting of the Business Council Board of the Organisation. It is certainly a very positive development for Pakistan in the backdrop of its fight against terrorism and the policy of building regional linkages, the credit for which goes to the present government for making persistent diplomatic efforts to become a permanent member of the SCO. Another likely development is that premiers of Pakistan and India might also meet on the sidelines of the Summit to lower the temperature and perhaps make a new beginning in the relations between the two countries.
Pakistan’s bid to have its status as observer changed to a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) represents its innate desire and quest for peace, security and progress within the region and within its own borders. Why Pakistan is so keen to join the SCO and what benefits it can bring to her would perhaps merit a little probing of the origin of SCO, its principles and objectives and their relevance to Pakistan’s situation.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation launched on 15 June, 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 disarmament in the border regions of the member states and to resolve border disputes among them. The ambit of their cooperation however was gradually extended to cover mutually beneficial cooperation in political, security, diplomatic, trade, and other areas. With the admittance of Uzbekistan to the Organisation 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 purposes of SCO are: strengthening mutual trust and good neighbourliness and friendship among 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. 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 Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) with the purpose of enhancing cooperation among the member states to deal with terrorism, separatism and extremism.
SCO is unique in the sense that 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 resolve of SCO to fight the menace of terrorism, promoting regional peace and security and working for shared economic prosperity are very much in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and needs desperately. Pakistan’s resolve to look to the region where it belongs, for finding solutions to its economic woes and other debilitating challenges represents a paradigm shift in the conduct of its foreign relations. Pakistan in view of its changed foreign policy and an abiding commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism and promoting regional cooperation was in consonance with the objective of the SCO and made it a legitimate aspirant for the membership of the SCO.
The presence of the giants like Russia and China in the SCO along with Central Asian states, rich in natural resources promise infinitesimal opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region. Granting of observer status to Afghanistan and associating Turkey with SCO have further strengthened the Organisation. The economic linkages evolved through the SCO forum will also strengthen prospects of regional security. Pakistan presently faces an existentialist threat from 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 and 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 her to tide over the problem and nudge the process of economic revival. Pakistan presently 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 have geographical proximity with Pakistan and easy accessibility, constitute a very lucrative market for its exports. Similarly it 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 to exploit their economic potential to the maximum. With the prospects of Afghanistan and Iran and possibly Turkey also joining the Organisation in the near future, SCO is likely to emerge as a very strong regional Organisation.
The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to work together to promote and create a new political and economic world order. In the prevailing global environment wherein a sole super power supported by its western allies is feverishly engaged in fashioning a new world order chiseled to its own perceptions which in certain cases has created more threats for the world peace and security, the role of SCO in firming up the new world order and eliminating the vulnerabilities of this region to foreign intervention, assumes greater significance. Regional organisations like SCO are perhaps the best forums to strengthen regional security and preserving world peace. The foregoing facts make a very strong case for Pakistan to seek membership of SCO and present itself an historic opportunity to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. The government surely is treading the right track to address security and strategic and economic interests of the country.
Pakistan and SCO | Malik Muhammad Ashraf