A regional stabilizer: Shanghai Cooperation Organization
In the world’s shifting power dynamics, today’s nation states need to align themselves with organizations that secure their interests through dialogue and cooperation. In large part, peace and regional security now rest within states’ membership of legitimate intergovernmental organizations.
In South Asia, the idea of regional governance and international mediation is not new. But despite the existence of various regional organizations and third-party mediation, the region has historically failed to address and resolve its most longstanding regional disputes. There are a number of reasons for this, but power politics by member states and the vested interplay of global powers are two important ones.
Legitimate international governance is now the need of the hour, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with its focus on the maintenance of regional peace and economic and humanitarian cooperation, has emerged as an important catalyst for regional integration.
Peace in South Asia depends perhaps singularly on the normalcy of relations between Pakistan and India. The strategic instability between them undermines the scope of regional cooperation and allows non-state actors to wreak havoc. In fact, the military standoff between the two nuclear armed neighbors in the wake of India’s Balakot misadventure in February have challenged the entire conflict resolution framework of our recent histories.
As for the two countries’ invaluable geo-strategic significance to the world, it becomes difficult to say whether or not this is a blessing as the region becomes increasingly prone to unresolved conflicts like Kashmir.
But it is precisely these broad security and economic concerns that have given SCO the impetus to operate as a balanced forum. Despite criticism, it is a fact that the organization understands security as a multidimensional idea comprising military, economic, environmental, human and political factors; a holistic security paradigm which allows both member and non-member states to pool in their resources and potential to maximize output and counter common challenges. Accompanied by a democratic charter and a 2025 development agenda, SCO can serve India and Pakistan as both a conflict resolution framework and a road-map towards stability.
Legitimate international governance is now the need of the hour, and the SCO, with its focus on the maintenance of regional peace and economic and humanitarian cooperation, has emerged as an important catalyst for regional integration.
The organization’s charter lays down a criterion-based approach to ensuring regional integration. Its very first article ensures that existing and aspiring members avoid direct military conflict. The second article deals with the principle implementation of mutual non-use of force. Article three covers the idea of regional integration through economic cooperation. This trilateral combination of SCO articles means that states agree to set aside differences in favor of long-term gains. In the end, it is the idea that economic and political stability are outcomes of economic development that serves as the foundational ground for SCO membership.
The availability of a mature regional anti-terrorist structure (RATS) and joint military exercises further add to the SCO’s strategic significance for India and Pakistan and the convergence of their interests empower the organization to bridge trust deficits. RATS is the first institution of its kind, and manages to engage the collective efforts of all member states to address separatism, extremism and terrorism. It could benefit not only Pakistan, India and Afghanistan but other regional states as well.
According to Chinese President Xi Jinping, “SCO members have created a new model of international relations- partnerships instead of alliance.”
It is imperative for policymakers to keep in mind that geopolitics and geo-economics are not only about overriding one’s competitor but to find space for creating mutual interdependencies i.e. to cooperate instead of competing for power. It is these mutual interdependencies that minimize the risk of conflict and enhance the prospects of a lasting peace.
• Senator Sehar Kamran T.I. is the President of Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and member of the Senate Forum for Policy Research (SFPR) from 2018-2021. She has also served as a member Senate of Pakistan for the term 2012-2018.