Chinese spokesperson expressed her desire that Pakistan and India can improve their ties after they become full-members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) next week, June 8-9th in Astana. Speculation is also rife that Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif may also meet on the sidelines of the summit which could help reduce current tensions between the countries which reached a pinnacle in the aftermath of the Uri base attack in September 2016.
“Hope India and Pakistan strictly follow the charter of the SCO and the idea of good neighbourliness, uphold the SCO spirit, improve their relations and inject new impetus to the development of the SCO,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) said on Thursday at the regular ministry briefing.
SCO was established to advance and strengthen cooperation on trade and culture between member states in Central Asia, improve regional security and stability, and create a new order based on regional cooperation and mutual support.
The antecedent of the SCO was the ‘Shanghai Five’ in 1996, with China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan as founding members. It got transformed into SCO in 2001, with the inclusion of Uzbekistan.
Introduction of India & Pakistan brings challenges and opportunities for the SCO
SCO was established to advance and strengthen cooperation on trade and culture between member states in Central Asia, improve regional security and stability, and create a new order based on regional cooperation and mutual support. Although SCO has not emphasized building a military bloc but given the saliency of terrorism in the region intelligence sharing and military cooperation will gain traction. With the inclusion of India and Pakistan the bloc will now be the largest regional bloc in terms of people and together its members have 25 percent of the World’s GDP.
The decision to include India and Pakistan, as permanent members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was announced during the SCO Summit at Ufa, Russia in 2015. Russia has pushed for India’s membership for the SCO in the last few years while, China backed the entry of Pakistan.
The two countries signed the Memorandum of Obligations last year in Tashkent, a place which was famous for bringing an end to the Indo-Pak war of 1965.
Both countries will be the first nations to inducted as members in the summit to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan. Till now India and Pakistan are observers along with Iran, Belarus and Mongolia. The SCO has traditionally been dominated by China.
If the two countries are able to reconcile differences it gives a chance for the SCO to act as a game changer in a region that suffers from terrorism, climate issues and water scarcity issues.
At a time when neither Indo-Pak nor Sino-Indo ties are healthy, what this induction offers will be meaningful. Indo-China tensions exist over the recent bridge Indians have built in Arunachal Pradesh as well as Chinese stipulating two-step conditions that all countries need to fulfill to join the NSG – nuclear suppliers group – which India sees aimed against its entry. Indian policy makers are also upset over Chinese veto exercised in UN over declaring JeM Masood Azhar a terrorist.
If the two countries are able to reconcile differences it gives a chance for the SCO to act as a game changer in a region that suffers from terrorism (under Russian initiative on Afghanistan), climate issues (global warming which is creating flooding in downstream countries) and water scarcity issues (India vs Pakistan and China vs Kazakstan, Russia). The SCO can act as a forum where regional countries can coordinate and tackle these regional problems collectively.
Potential Benefits to Pakistan
As a full member Pakistan is likely to gain some diplomatic leverage and would get access to domains which were elusive while being exclusively in the US camp. Pakistan and China are enjoying solid ties, for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has become an important plank of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative. The membership will further solidify this relationship. Russia’s growing ties with Pakistan will also strengthen Pakistan’s position in the forum. Despite old bonds with India, Russian president did not name Pakistan as a perpetrator, but appreciated its counter terrorism drive while meeting Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, during his visit to moscow this week.
Pakistan would be better served to concentrate on a bloc which aligns with it on pressing regional issues.
The membership of the SCO gives Pakistan an ideal counter weight to its reliance on USA. With unhealthy ties with the US over the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan would be better served to concentrate on a bloc which aligns with it on pressing regional issues. Russia’s increasing assertiveness in regional and world affairs have led it to enter the Afghan theatre. It feels that Pakistan’s influence over the Taliban and its experience in counter-terrorism makes cooperation all the more needful.
SCO offers all a win-win situation
In a potential win-win situation, both Russia and China will look to strengthen the clout of SCO and in the process will try to bring together arch rivals India and Pakistan on as many common issues as possible. Whilst, India also feels that China and Russia would influence Pakistan to clamp down on its anti-India policies. The SCO also offers to India a venue through which its ambitions of spreading its tentacles beyond the region can be fulfilled.
The SCO membership could help kick start stalled projects. Both the Iran Pakistan India gas pipeline and the TAPI pipeline have not moved forward due to bilateral tensions. With both Pakistan and India now full members, it is likely that either or both projects may finally take off. Both projects have the potential to greatly enhance the energy scenario in the region, while boosting regional cooperation and trade between stakeholder countries.
However, despite benefits to both countries it is difficult to think that grave issues can be resolved. Pakistan and India are at a highest pitch of war mongering in recent years. Issues and by-crises have multiplied with both taking recalcitrant positions. In all likelihood, India or Pakistan for that matter could refuse cooperation even while being in the SCO on pretext of terrorism against it from the other party. If cricket and terror cannot go together how can pipelines be worked upon? SCO will however impose some degree of restrain from both sides, but India’s growing ties with the US and the latter’s willingness to “twist “ Pakistan will keep the pot boiling in the Indo-Pak realm.