The announcement of Indo-Pak collaboration under the ambit of SCO Counter Terrorism Drills certainly brings good tidings amid a protracted stalemate between two uneasy neighbors. While both the countries are all set to celebrate 75 years of independence from colonial rule and share significant cultural and linguistic roots, their long-standing rivalry has impeded growth, prosperity and meaningful dialogue in SCO continuously.
The simultaneous inclusion of these two neighbors in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization was hailed as a welcome step back in 2017, with analysts describing it as something that will add vitality and strength to the Shanghai Spirit. However, speculations about the possible roadblocks in organizational operations due to Indo-Pak historical rivalry too had their fair share in analytical discourse. And unfortunately, it appears that over these years these doubts have outweighed the analytical optimism.
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Understanding the matter better
Today, SCO has become more relevant than ever because of the rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape in South Asia, which is also marred by impending food and economic crises. Multiple challenges ranging from the Afghan humanitarian crisis to terrorism and insurgencies of militant outfits pose a threat to regional peace and stability. And except SCO there is no organization at present nor is there one pending in the foreseeable future that can match its potential in the region. This further puts the responsibility on countries like Pakistan and India, the nuclear hegemons of the region, to put aside their historical enmity and rise above hot button politics for regional connectivity, stability and peace envisioned in Shanghai Spirit.
While there’s no denying the fact that regional organizations play an inevitable role in maintaining and fostering regional peace, it is also beyond skepticism that the success or failures of such organizations lie in the hands of its members. To make such formations work, it is imperative to carve out goals that are mutually agreeable and are met with the common resolve of all constituent states. This is exactly what has hindered SCO in playing its role to the best of its potential.
However, it is better late than never. With SCO Summit 2022, which is planned for September 15-16 in Samarkand, there is yet another chance for Pakistan and India to work out the logistical nightmare of the organization bringing rational and more pragmatic output to the table. The collaboration of the two countries for counter-terrorism drills can be seen as a thaw after Pakistan downgraded its relationship with India to protest over Kashmir’s illegally revoked special status in 2019. But this is not all that the time demands, there’s probably a lot more to go in order to render the SCO format operational.
Pakistan and India need to reconfigure the toothless diplomacy over the Kashmir dilemma because it brought no good. Having said that, SCO currently is the most viable forum to bring to fore the core activism regarding the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, generating a discourse for Kashmir on a platform like that would prove synonymous to soliciting world support for the implementation of UN resolutions for a plebiscite. It is also important for us to stop labeling diplomatic engagement with India in an attempt to jettison the cause for Kashmir because eventually talk between the two is inevitable to reach a pragmatic solution.
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One of the core themes for SCO Summit 2022 outlined by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is the elimination of trade barriers, which is another lynchpin of India-Pakistan enmity. The World Bank in its report “Glass Half Full: Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia”, 2018 projected the Indo-Pak trade potential as around 37 Billion USD. However, the current trade between the two neighbors is merely around 2 Billion dollars. This trade is blotched by repeated political U-turns on both sides of the border. While one cannot completely rule out the rationale Pakistan has for disengaging with India in terms of economic activities, it’s high time the two countries utilize a neutral platform like SCO to reach a solution that brings nothing but the public good.
The way forward
Peace and stability in the region is also outlined as the agenda for the upcoming SCO summit. This gives Pakistan and India a chance to further the anti-terrorist program in the region through mutual partnerships in the (RATS- SCO). Multiple reports from Pakistan have emerged in past couple of days that claim reemergence of militant groups in South Waziristan and Swat regions which were previously demilitarized by Pakistan Army in anti-terrorist operations. Consequent to this, mass protests by locals of the area have been witnessed as well demanding peace and security. While this is disturbing, it immediately calls for Pakistan to gather international support from forums like SCO which have specialized anti-terrorist structures to counter insurgency.
Last but not the least, SCO Summit also provides a platform to discuss tech regulations and digitalization among member countries. It is particularly important for Pakistan at this time as recently 265 Indian websites have been reported that are operational in over 65 countries creating anti Pakistan propaganda. Already the reports of EU DisInfo Lab and Indian utility of Pegasus spyware have raised concerns regarding the 5th generation warfare against Pakistan. The reports of Indian BJP blocking Pakistani websites and Radio Pakistan broadcast in India further aggravates the situation simmering tensions between the two neighbors. However SCO can prove to be a platform for mitigating the issues by addressing both sides of the border, neutrally.
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One thing is clear, if Pakistan and India want to work out their differences, which they should for greater good, SCO is a promising platform at present. Although it is not made official yet whether the premiers of both states will meet or not at Summit 2022 in next month, it can only be hoped that both countries rise above hot button politics and get involved in purposeful policy making that fosters nothing but peace and growth in the region.
The writer is a Communications and Media Researcher associated with the University of Punjab. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.