The evolution of Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Security to geo-economics

The evolution of Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Security to geo-economics

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) does not undertake bilateral disputes but provides ample opportunity for participating leaders to contemplate bilateral issues on the sidelines of the summit. Besides, the organization offers the opportunity to deliberate on options to increase trade among like-minded states. Nonetheless, SCO’s primary purpose of addressing three evil forces— terror, separatism, and extremism— remains the principal concern of the leaders of the organization. The SCO leaders are also busy chalking out an effective mechanism for promoting economic cooperation and addressing shared security challenges such as drug trafficking, cybercrime, and transnational organized crime.

SCO was established in 2001 as a multilateral association to ensure security and stability across the vast Eurasian region. It convened its 24th annual summit earlier this month in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The leaders of SCO— nine member states, three observer countries, and 14 dialogue partners— contemplated enhancing the organization’s role in global geopolitics. 10,000 foreign delegates from across the Eurasian continent participated. During the summit, Belarus became the SCO’s tenth member, further expanding and diversifying its geopolitical composition.

The SCO is a forum that confirms and publicizes China’s increasing role in global geopolitics. President Xi opined in his speech that he would uphold the original aspiration of friendship for generations in response to an “ever-changing international situation.” Besides, the SCO summit allowed Putin to demonstrate that Russia still holds regional clout and is not as isolated in global geopolitics. President Putin states, “The organization has firmly established itself as one of the key pillars of a fair, multipolar world order.” Hence, it provides an opportunity for the participating leaders to pursue their politico-economic agendas.

PM Shehbaz Sharif stressed the need to promote trilateral economic cooperation between Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkiye.

Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Currently, Pakistani society and state are vulnerable to terrorism, separatism and extremism. These three evils are immensely de-stabilizing Pakistan’s internal security. On July 4, PM Shehbaz Sharif drew the attention of SCO participants toward militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan. He said that the Taliban government had to take concrete measures to ensure its territory is not used for terrorism against any other state.

PM Sharif intelligently used the SCO summit to apprise and sensitize participants regarding the increasing transnational terror syndicates’ challenges in the region. He solicited them to coordinate with Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to terminate foreign financial and material support to groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Daesh.

The economic cooperation received significant support from SCO members during the summits. However, the members cannot take practical initiatives to reduce trade barriers, harmonize regulations and promote investment across member states. Though China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) germinates optimism about increasing regional connectivity and economic ties, one of the leading members of the SCO refused to join it. 

India seems determined to obstruct the BRI flagship project, CPEC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s absence from the summit indicates India’s dwindling interest in the Eurasian organization. Last year, India, as a chair, organized a virtual summit.

During a meeting on the sidelines of the summit with his Azerbaijan and Turkiye counterparts, PM Shehbaz Sharif stressed the need to promote trilateral economic cooperation between Pakistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkiye. He proposed establishing tripartite institutional mechanisms, particularly in economic and investment areas, to strengthen trilateral economic and commercial cooperation further.

PM Shehbaz offered Russian President Putin a barter trade, which both nations did in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, it’s a practical option to overcome western banking and financial obstacles to enhance bilateral trade further. He said, “I think today is the time we can overcome financial and other banking issues by renewing our trade and expanding it under barter.”

Indeed, SCO aims to promote socio-economic development through enhanced connectivity, mitigate climate change challenges, and maintain internal peace and security by collectively combating terrorism.

- 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] 

X: @zafar_jaspal

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