PAKISTAN and India became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 10 at the SCO Summit Conference in Ufa. Pakistan’s entry into the Organization is a high water mark in its diplomacy as this enhances Pakistan’s strategic, economic and diplomatic space in the region and internationally.
Pakistan is not new to the SCO. As an observer since 2005, Pakistan has been actively participating in the activities of the SCO. Pakistan applied for its membership in 2006; India in 2011. At some point, it was decided by the six founding SCO members that Pakistan and India would be given membership simultaneously.
Two other factors delayed this decision. First, SCO members felt that India and Pakistan would bring their differences and disputes to the Organization, and that could hamstring it from within. Second, the development and approval of the rules and procedures for the admission of new members took some time. These two issues have been addressed.
The SCO is not a military alliance, not even in an embryonic form. In the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping, “ SCO members have created a new model of international relations – partnership instead of alliance.” This partnership is not directed against any country or bloc but is geared towards fighting three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism, as well as transnational crime and illicit narcotics. It is not a counterweight to NATO or the US. The Organization is focused on its own priorities for security and economic development, with an emphasis on connectivity in the fields of energy, transportation, telecommunications, and industry.
The SCO gives a new architecture in world politics. Overtime, it may give the world a more multi-polar configuration. Therefore, speculation about the ultimate orientation of the SCO would continue to shadow its evolution. That said, Pakistan’s membership of the SCO does not in any way restrict its choices to develop freely its relations with the West, including the US and the European Union, and honour all its commitments.
People have asked how Pakistan benefits from joining the SCO. Well, in many ways, it is a good vessel to promote Pakistan’s foreign policy goals.
Let’s start with economy. Pakistan is poised to graduate from a frontier to an emerging economy. It needs fresh approaches to make Pakistan a manufacturing hub and a trading and transportation route for multiple and interlinked regions surrounding it. The SCO’s vast landmass connects Europe and Asia and creates and enabling environment for leveraging the strengths of half of the world’s population, rich natural resources, and economic geography. This offers huge opportunities for Pakistan to join and create new value chains and market its goods and services in SCO’s contiguous economic neigbourhood. It could also pave the way for the completion of Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project, commonly known by its acronym CASA-1000.
As Pakistan enters into the Organization and complete admission procedures, we should tap into its proven competencies in exploration of hydrocarbon reserves and joint use of water resources. We should also establish our presence in SCO Business Council, Inter-bank Consortium and Business Forum.
The transformative China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has already been launched. As this mega-project gradually builds a network of ports, roads, railway, airports and data connectivity, Pakistan will become a conduit and a destination for trade and investment from all SCO countries; and the CPEC’s arteries will carry merchandise and services to all SCO markets.
Terrorism is a transnational phenomenon and therefore we need the help of the SCO to defeat this monster. The SCO has already had joint military exercises against terrorism. Pakistan too has held such exercises with China. Their scope can be broadened on selective basis. Pakistan would also need to enhance its interaction with SCO’s Regional Counter-Terrorist Structure (RCTS).
In the years to come, Pakistan will work closely with the SCO on Afghanistan. The SCO has set up mechanisms and held conferences on Afghanistan. Its members are keen to help Afghanistan move itself towards stability and away from illicit economy, especially from production and trafficking of illicit narcotics.
The SCO has opened a new avenue for Pakistan-India dialogue on the sidelines of its Summit meetings. The Summit at Ufa afforded one such opportunity to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Modi to deal with the breakdown in communication and rising hostility between the two countries.
Finally, the SCO is a forum for confidence building, mutual security and shared development. Pakistan will have an eminent place in this family and will be a constructive participant in the SCO’s decision-making processes.
—(The author is Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, and earlier he served as Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York and ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.)
Sco’s Membership: A High Water Mark in Pakistan’s Diplomacy