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By Saud Bin Ahsen |

The importance of regional organisation in international relation has tremendously increased after falling of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a unipolar world. After the disintegration of Soviet Union, Central Asian States (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan), China and Russia having common borders signed an agreement in 1996 called ‘Shanghai Five’. This agreement was focused on

The eight-member organisation which will also include Pakistan and India as members and Iran and Afghanistan as observers will make SCO an organisation having 43% of the world’s population.

This agreement was focused on the security of borders. ‘Shanghai five’ latter held meeting in 1997 and signed agreement on the reduction of military force in their respective border’s region. Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) carved out of this Shanghai Five and was formally declared on 15th June 2001. Thus, SCO was created with the primary aim of regional security to combat terrorism, extremism and separatism.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at present comprised of six permanent members after addition of Uzbekistan. There are also observer’s status members which include Iran, Mongolia, Belarus and Afghanistan. Whereas Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Cambodia Sri Lanka have the status of dialogue partners.

Pakistan joins SCO

According to leading national daily newspaper, The Nation, on April 21st, Pakistan and India will join the SCO as full member status in SCO Summit in Astana in June 2017. It is also on the agenda that Iran and Afghanistan should also be elevated to full fledge member status like Indo- Pak but it is not confirmed yet.

The eight-member organisation which will also include Pakistan and India as members and Iran and Afghanistan as observers will make SCO an organisation having 43% of the world’s population, a significant increase in proven oil and gas reserves from 7% and 19% to 17% and 37% of global totals respectively. An expanded grouping will also bring together four of the world’s nuclear powers.

Disintegrations in the SCO

Despite achievements in the field of security and cooperation, there are also conflicting interests of member states of SCO which should be in the sight of Pakistani Think Tanks for balancing position. The SCO composition is not homogeneous but members are divided in terms of ethnicity, language, influence, strategic, political, economic position etc.

Russia has a free hand to use the military facilities of Central Asia States. Similarly, Russia is also cognizant of the fact that China has grown over the period as an economic giant and has apprehensions of losing Russian business from the region.

The organisation is dominated by two great global nuclear powers having permanent membership in the Security Council. The other four members being former states of Soviet Union are landlocked and have no access to the sea. Even within the CARs, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are having a big size and large oil and gas reserves while the other two i.e. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are having fewer resources and smaller in size compared to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

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The Russians always considered CARs states as an extension of the homeland. Any interference from outside particularly the USA has been considered by Russia a threat to its security and therefore kept the Central Asia States in the framework of Common Wealth of Independent States (CIS). Russia has a free hand to use the military facilities of Central Asia States. Similarly, Russia is also cognizant of the fact that China has grown over the period as an economic giant and has apprehensions of losing Russian business from the region.

There is growing impression that SCO is under the domination of China.

China is the second largest economy in the world. Sensing Russians efforts to thwart economic integration, China has taken initiatives pumping billion of dollars to secure growing access to Kazakhstan’s oil, Uzbekistan’s uranium and Turkmenistan’s natural gas. There are also apprehensions regarding China’s ambitious multi-billion dollar Silk Road project called One Belt and One Road (OBOR) which was unveiled by President Xi Jinxing. OBOR is stretching across continents to build infrastructure and improve connectivity with the objective of expansion of trade and development. There is growing impression that SCO is under the domination of China.

Pakistan’s Role in Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Membership of SCO will provide Pakistan with an opportunity to play its due role in the promotion of regional stability and will also play its role in fields of anti-terrorism, anti-drug trafficking, in trade and commerce.

Economics: SCO has the potential to change the political, economic and strategic landscape of the region as well as the world at large. The SCO members will greatly benefit from regional connectivity getting competitiveness in the world market, having huge resources of oil and gas and a big manufacturing base.

It is hoped that inclusion of India and Pakistan will enhance regional integration. Beijing’s large investment in South Asia will benefit all the countries in the region boosting their exports and economic development through greater connectivity with China.

South Asia including Pakistan is energy deficient. The demand of these countries to increase manifold within the next few years. SCO provides an opportunity to kick start all the energy related projects in the region which will promote economic integration. The mega projects such as Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline and the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India Pipeline (TAPI) if gone in operation will immensely benefit Pakistan in energy requirement, increasing productivity and resulting in an economic turnaround. Similarly, the transit fee charged on oil and gas pipelines leading to other countries through Pakistan will be in millions of dollars.

As India and Pakistan are about to gain full membership in the SCO, for both nations, the economic imperative to join the SCO is also clear. In South Asia, China plans to invest heavily in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor. It is hoped that inclusion of India and Pakistan will enhance regional integration. Beijing’s large investment in South Asia will benefit all the countries in the region boosting their exports and economic development through greater connectivity with China.

Security: Being greatly affected by terrorism and extremism, Pakistan has a great interest in SCO and has been very keen to share its own experience and to coordinate its efforts with members of SCO to combat terrorism at the regional level. Various agreements in the field of anti-terrorism have been signed between Pakistan and members of SCO, however, there is a lack of cooperation due to the absence of institutional arrangements. Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure (RCTS) under SCO will greatly help Pakistan to get cooperation in large scale and in a comprehensive manner through an institutional arrangement.

Anti-drug Trafficking: Afghanistan has been considered a leading producer of opium in the world. It is no denying the fact that the production and smuggling of opium in SCO countries is increased and there is the a between the drugs trade and terrorism in Central Asia and requires joint anti-drug policies. Afghanistan is the major source of narcotics and other illicit drugs which passed through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan can also play its useful role in sharing its experience in drug interdiction and exchange of information and intelligence which will be helpful to expose the network of drug barons in the region.

As regard to both India and Pakistan, their cooperation is must to develop South Asia a trade and energy corridor, resulting in regional stability and economic integration. It is up to Pakistan and India whether it settles its issues to materialise objective of the well-being of the people of South Asia or settle for the status quo. SCO’s forum could provide a neutral arena for Pakistan and India to discuss their border disputes and other issues of mutual interest.

Trade: 

Pakistan should continue to engage India on all the regional forums including SCO to reduce tension between two countries leading to revitalising the process of composite dialogue.

It is an important driver of economic prosperity for nations. Besides security, our foreign policy objective must also include promotion of trade. There must be efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Pakistan by promoting country’s image as an attractive destination for foreign firms and creating an enabling environment for investment. Besides, enhancing existing trade relations, efforts should be made to explore new markets which offer opportunities for trade promotion. Hence, there is a need to explore new avenues for cooperation with Russia, CIS States, and CARs under the platform of SCO.

Read more: CPEC’s potential to revolutionise regional cooperation and make Pakistan pivotal

In order to become an energy and trade hub, Pakistan needs to cultivate a good neighbourly relationship. It is up to Pakistan to play its cards with vision and statesmanship. Pakistan should continue to engage India on all the regional forums including SCO to reduce tension between two countries leading to revitalising the process of composite dialogue. In view of the present disposition of the Indian regime, we will have to wait.

Once the situation settles down we may agree to hold composite dialogue. The dialogue should be held in a peaceful atmosphere with an open mind without conditions. With Iran, we should try to get the IP gas pipeline completed as early as possible. In addition, we should try to enhance our cooperation in diverse fields which was previously not possible due to sanctions.

There are potential prospects and challenges to Pakistan membership in SCO. The prospects included security, international relation, economic cooperation and trade relation, while challenges include Pakistan relationship with Eastern and Western neighbours.

We should continue with our policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and extend all help for peace and stability. At the same time, we need to take assurances from Afghan government not to allow the use of its soil to destabilize Pakistan and vice versa.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is tagged with terrorism, militancy, narcotics, persecution of minorities etc. These misconceptions need to be removed through enhanced people to people contact under SCO, promoting a soft image of Pakistan through cultural links, exchange of troupes etc. To raise its image internationally, Pakistan should use the SCO’s summit meeting to highlight efforts and sacrifices of the nation in the fight against terrorism.

Thus, there are potential prospects and challenges to Pakistan membership in SCO. The prospects included security, international relation, economic cooperation and trade relation, while challenges include Pakistan relationship with Eastern and Western neighbours. There are also constraints of law and order, poor infrastructure and lack of facilities in a trade to exploit opportunities provided by membership of SCO.

Pakistan is to overcome a number of challenges to fully utilise the potential advantage it can get from SCO. Pakistan geo political position provides an opportunity to become trade and energy hub by improving the existing infrastructure and construction of new infrastructure to full utilise the potential economic gains. Pakistan has much to gain from this forum. Membership of Pakistan can give potential benefits in spheres of regional stability, security, anti-terrorism, anti-drug trafficking, trade and energy.

Saud Bin Ahsen is Post-Grad student of Public Administration at Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

Saud Bin Ahsen is Post-Grad student of Public Administration at Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics.

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