Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a chance for Pakistan?
As the Great Powers and militarily insecure states are struggling to establish and consolidate their alliances in the advent of a multi-polar global order the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is emerging an important regional, geopolitical and geo-economic alliance. Islamabad's proactive role can contribute to Pakistan's security, but despite general perceptions is unlikely to help solve its disputes with India.
The organization has eight permanent members (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan), four observer states (Afghanistan, Belarus, Mongolia and, Iran), plus six dialogue partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey).
Pakistan was promoted from observer to the SCO's full member in 2017. Since then, it has been active within the organization's ranks to pursue its political, economic, and security objectives. In June 2019, during the SCO’s summit held in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Prime Minister Imran Khan recommended trading in local currencies and setting up SCO Fund and SCO Development Bank to catalyze trans-regional developmental cooperation. Their creation is being discussed.
During the SCO's Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting in Moscow last week, Pakistan proposed to set up a center of excellence in Islamabad and a joint working group on poverty alleviation. The participants gave an affirmative signal to the proposals. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also used the forum to publicize Pakistan’s establishment of special economic zones and announced incentives to foreign investors.
While for its economic goals Pakistan may find SCO helpful, the organization may not contribute much in defusing its tensions with neighbors such as India. The reason is that bilateral disputes cannot be part of the SCO’s agenda.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
While for its economic goals Pakistan may find SCO helpful, the organization may not contribute much in defusing its tensions with neighbors such as India. The reason is that bilateral disputes cannot be part of the SCO’s agenda. It provides, however, an opportunity for the participants to meet on the sidelines of its sessions. While they had this chance during the Moscow meeting, Qureshi and India's foreign minister, S. Jaishankar, did not take the opportunity and SCO could not compel them to do so.
India is not prepared to restart a dialogue process with Pakistan. On Sept. 15, it tried to politicize the SCO platform by complaining over Pakistan’s new political map during an online meeting of the SCO's national security advisers. It was stopped by the Russian host and the Indian representative ostentatiously left the meeting.
The "Shanghai Spirit" — the set of values that underpins the SCO — promotes mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and common development among the member states. It calls for joint counterterrorism efforts and resolving border issues amicably.
In its Moscow session, while deliberating on security challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers emphasized that cooperation instead of confrontation should be the driving force for the nations in the 21th century.
Pakistan should be proactive and use the SCO platform to sensitize its members about the gradually increasing influence of Daesh in the region so that a joint strategy could be chalked out to address the transnational terrorist organization's threat.
For its economy, Pakistan should maximize the utility of its Gwadar port, which is an effective trade outlet for the SCO's Eurasian nations. Under the SCO banner, it can encourage the organization's member states to invest in the project and its special economic zones to boost the blue economy.
But to achieve these goals, Islamabad has to present comprehensive economic and security plans. It is high time that it stared working on them as next SCO summit is scheduled for November.
*Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal