07
July

Strategic Significance of Sea Trade Regime

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Rear Admiral Pervaiz Asghar (R)

Sea trade has been universally recognized as the principal driver of the global economy. It was however in the Indian Ocean that coastal trade as well as trans-oceanic passages are believed to have originated. This ocean is also unique in the sense that its wide expanse is enclosed on three sides by land, while the southern perimeter is hemmed in by the forces of nature, and indeed during most of its history, ships rarely ventured beyond the Tropic of Capricorn. On closer inspection, one can discern a number of seas and channels on its periphery, which enabled early traders like the Greeks, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Arabs, Indians and even the Chinese to move freely around, and even beyond the ocean, spreading and assimilating cultural and religious influences.


The Chinese Admiral Zheng He was arguably the first outside power to venture into the Indian Ocean, with his massive fleet touching all the major ports from Malacca in the east to Zanzibar in the west during the seven different voyages that he undertook between 1405 and 1433. It was however, only when Vasco da Gama made his way round the Cape of Good Hope to reach Calicut in 1498 that the region was destined never to be the same again. The Portuguese were followed in quick succession by the Dutch, the English and the French and although their methods differed, the intent was the same: trade domination through mastery of the sea. What the colonial era managed to achieve, amongst other things, was the gradual replacement of traditional manufacturing hubs, traditional markets and traditional ports with new ones.


But as Britain was entrenching itself ever so firmly in the heart of the Indian Ocean, it could not have failed to appreciate the strategic and economic advantages that a direct trade route through the Red Sea and the Mediterranean would confer to the empire. The two seas had after all been historically linked for millennia till the eighth century Abbasid Caliph had it closed for supposedly tactical reasons.

 

stratgicsignmfacne.jpgA serious breakthrough in the construction of the canal however, occurred at the hands of a Frenchman in 1858 when Ferdinand de Lesseps, a diplomat as well as an engineer, used both his skills to convince the Egyptian Viceroy, Sa'id Pasha, of the necessity of the project. Construction officially began on April 25, 1859 and when the canal finally opened for traffic around ten years later, it had an immediate and significant impact on world trade.


After assuming full control of the canal in 1962 by buying off the Anglo-French owners, Egypt set up the Suez Canal Authority to regulate its working. Apart from income generation through transit fee, the canal also furnishes livelihood to a number of people, employed both within and outside. From a single sleepy settlement of around 4000 inhabitants when the canal’s construction began, a large number of industries have crept up all along the western flank of the canal, as well as the ports of Said and Suez at either end.


Though the canal is a cash cow for a cash-strapped nation, its working is still plagued by delays and systemic inefficiency. All those who have traversed the waterway would know that each vessel has to stop four times during the 18 hour passage, once at the Port Said outer anchorage, then at Port Said mooring, then at the Great Bitter Lakes anchorage and yet again at Port Suez. Apart from the canal transit fee, each ship owner has to embark and pay for four separate pilots, one at each stop, as well as for a couple of electricians who do nothing but sleep (for if you don’t, the ship’s movement is held up on the pretext of not having the specified lighting arrangements on board). In addition, each pilot unfailingly asks for some gift, even if it is only a pack of cigarettes.


As construction work on the Suez Canal was winding down, the same French entrepreneur, Ferdinand de Lesseps got Colombia, then the parent state of Panama, interested in a canal designed to furnish a much shorter trade route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, compared to the 8000 mile longer journey around the southern tip of South America – Cape Horn. But the construction which began in 1881 finally culminated in 1914, with the United States ultimately transferring its management to Panama in 1999. In case you are wondering what the Panama Canal has to do with a discussion on Indian Ocean trade, I’ll revert to that later.


This canal in due course gave rise to a new term, Panamax, which essentially refers to the largest carrying capacity of a ship that can safely transit the canal, 55000 dwt for tankers and upto 3999 TEUs for container ships. Those ships which could carry more than 4000 TEUs came to be referred to as post-Panamax. As ship payloads kept increasing, touching 20,000 TEUs by now, vessels beyond a carrying capacity of 8000 TEUs came to be known as neo-Panamaxes.


The importance of these two canals to the health of the international maritime community and indeed to the global economy did not go unrecognized. The 1888 Constantinople Convention (which Britain was reluctant to sign till 1904) required the Suez Canal to be kept open to ships of all nations in both peace and war, but could not prevent its prolonged closure following the 1967 Arab-Israel war. Similarly, the U.S.-Panama Treaty of 1977 confirmed the status of the Panama Canal as a neutral international waterway where every vessel is guaranteed safe passage at all times.


As ship sizes were seen to be continuously increasing, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) launched an ambitious $5.4 billion expansion plan in 2007 aimed at garnering a greater share of shipping. Though the ACP was expecting a windfall from this endeavour, with ship-handling capacity having been enhanced from 5000 TEUs to 14000, in actuality it has made little difference thus far. Preliminary assessments show that while the average ship size has risen from 4600 to 6400 TEUs, the number of vessels transiting the canal has correspondingly decreased. Overall, since its completion in June 2016, ship transits are running well below the canal’s current capacity, with less than a third of the available slots being taken. The new lock chambers now allow for an estimated 79% of all cargo carrying vessels to transit the canal, up from 45%.


Strange as it may seem, the two canals, Suez and Panama, although half a world apart, figuratively speaking, are also in competition for that significant chunk of shipping traffic that takes place between the South China Sea region and Western Europe or even the U.S. East coast. In addition, with low bunker prices favouring the use of the longer route round the southern tip of Africa by larger ships, the Suez Canal was faced with another unlikely rival. General Sisi, on taking over the reins of a financially distressed nation, made the canal’s upgrade his topmost priority in a bid to enhance revenue generation. After all, he had history on his side: the number of ships using the canal had risen sharply from 486 transits in 1870 (the first full year of operation) to 17,148 in 2014, with the net tonnage also registering an increase from 444,000 MT to 963 million MT during the same period. Net revenue for the year 2014 was touching $5.5 billion. An ambitious $9 billion upgrade was thus launched with the objective of not only permitting larger ships to transit but also to reduce wait times by allowing both Northbound and Southbound ships to pass simultaneously. This project, completed on August 6, 2015, added nearly 30 km of side channels to its original length of 164 km. The high expectations which the Suez Canal Authority had (the traffic doubling and revenue tripling over next 8 years) doesn’t seem likely to materialize, with revenue generation during 2016 not much different from 2014. The Suez Canal has, in one respect at least, been out-manoeuvred by the Panama Canal: the latter has succeeded in garnering a greater share of the container traffic between the United States and East Asia, raising it from 48% to 57% at present.


The third major waterway, much more natural and far more busier than the two afore-mentioned canals is the Malacca Straits straddling the Malaysian peninsula and the largest Indonesian island of Sumatra. Its importance as the major and most convenient gateway linking the Indian Ocean with the outside world has not faded over the ages. This is the strait that has propelled the rise of Singapore as the greatest port city in the Indian Ocean.


The delicate balancing act between the world’s three major waterways, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal and the Malacca Straits may face some turbulence in the years ahead if Chinese plans to generate alternate and competing routes to the latter two materialize. Flushed with money, technology and wherewithal, China’s ambitions are unfolding. As part of its maritime Silk Road, which criss-crosses the world’s oceans, China is contemplating a canal across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand which would skirt the congested and pirate-infested Malacca Straits. The $50 billion plan envisages a 30 mile long canal linking the Andaman Sea direct to the South China Sea through southern Thailand, with ports and industrial zones at either end. Apart from the two countries involved, the proposed canal would be extremely beneficial to Indo-China especially Vietnam which is constructing a new Deepwater Port, Hon Khoai, with U.S. help, directly opposite the mouth of the Said Canal. China would however be the major beneficiary, as apart from having upto 4 days of transit time to Chinese ports, the Kra Canal would reduce the vulnerability of Chinese ships transiting the Malacca Straits, aptly termed as the ‘Malacca Dilemma’. Though the Thai government is yet to take a decision in the matter with local politics in play, it is surmised that the opportunity of becoming a regional maritime center, with direct benefits to its impoverished southern region, will be too tempting to pass up. Singapore is obviously not thrilled at all as its entire economy revolves around shipping passing through the Malacca Straits.


The other major project being eyed is a 278 km long canal through Nicaragua as a direct rival to the Panama Canal. Envisaged to be over 3 times the length of the 100 year old Panama Canal, it is expected to be much deeper and wider than the latter, enabling the largest ships to pass through. The United States, which is understandably not pleased at the prospect, has tried to cast doubt on its viability, but there are far more serious concerns about its environmental impact, particularly as it transits through Lake Nicaragua, the largest source of freshwater in Central America. Though Nicaragua appears keen on its implementation, the $50 billion Interoceanic Grand Canal project, as it is known, would not automatically translate into economic prosperity for the impoverished region for the next 50 years at least, much like the Panama Canal.


The Government of China, possibly because of U.S. resentment, is maintaining a safe distance from the project, with a Chinese company, Hong Kong Nicaraguan Development Investment (HKND), led by a flamboyant Chinese billionaire, hogging the limelight. The Nicaraguan government approved the route in July 2014, but despite the construction work having officially begun later that year, there is not much to show for it yet on ground. If and when completed, the new canal is envisaged to attract around 5% of global trade, approximately the same as Panama Canal is drawing these days.


With all this talk and action on the canal fronts, Turkey did not want to be left behind. After all, the Bosphorus Strait controls all the traffic, including warships, to and from the Black Sea. Traffic in the Bosphorus has risen sharply in recent years, owing to increased oil production in the Caspian Sea fields, which is mostly being shipped through the Black Sea. The new 45 km long Istanbul Canal running parallel to the Bosphorus, announced in 2011, is controversial owing again to environmental concerns, but the Turkish President has recently vowed to get the job done. Turkey feels that the requirement of an alternate route is inescapable as the Bosphorus is incapable of handling more than 150 million tonnes of oil annually, and that limit has already been reached. A cost estimate of $10 billion is being floated, though outside experts claim that its construction may well be 4 to 5 times this figure. Its financial viability may thus well depend on which figure is closer to reality.


On the home front, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, once complete, has the power to transform the Indian Ocean sea trading regime. For one thing, it will propel the rise of China’s impoverished western region into a Special Economic Zone. Though this vast region shares a border with as many as eight countries, the route passing through the entire length of Pakistani territory to the port of Gwadar would furnish it with the most convenient linkage to international shipping lanes and international markets.


So much for shortened trade routes. The next arena where opportunity presented itself was in the field of shipping which rose steadily in the decades following the Second World War. This was the era when most nations still licking their wounds were embarking on the rocky road to recovery, with ships carrying raw materials and manufactured goods serving as the workhorses. Cheap oil from the Middle East, which acted as the catalyst for growth, was most in demand. Until 1956 when war over the Suez Canal resulted in its closure, all tankers conformed to the size restriction imposed by the canal. This crisis, during which tankers had to perforce use the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, generated a new opportunity, an opportunity that gave birth to the era of the supertankers. So from 47,500 dwt in 1955, the world’s largest individual tankers ballooned in size to 564,763 dwt in 1979. As the new-build order book for huge supertankers kept increasing, fate again intervened in the form of the first oil crisis of 1973, sparked by the Arab-Israeli conflict, which caused oil prices to quadruple overnight. Apart from engineering a drastic slowdown of the booming global economy, it also resulted in a downward spiral of the overall fleet capacity from a peak of 350 million dwt prior to stabilizing in 1987 at 250 million dwt. Much has however admittedly changed in the oil trading patterns over the past four decades, with bulk of the Mid-east oil now making its way eastwards.


The steadily increasing global oil requirements led to the growth of dedicated oil export terminals, the offshore ones becoming capable of handling the biggest supertankers. The Ras Tanurah complex of Saudi Arabia is still counted amongst the largest of such terminals, with the Ras Juaymah facility a distant second. Its closest rival, Iran’s Kharg Island terminal, had made an impressive start in the early fifties by establishing a linkage through a submarine cable with a major mainland oilfield. Located 16 miles off the coast of Iran, the port was incessantly bombed by the Iraqi Air Force during the Iran-Iraq war, which succeeded in reducing it to rubble by the fall of 1986. The Port has again risen from the ashes, though the process has been painfully slow owing to the sanctions the country has been perpetually burdened with.


Worries about a possible closure of the Strait of Hormuz led Saudi Arabia to construct a 745 mile East-West pipeline from Abqaiq, whose huge processing complex handles about two-thirds the country’s oil output, to Yanbu on the Red Sea. Such concerns became more real during the U.S.-Iran nuclear standoff which not only helped propel oil prices to a record $147 per barrel in 2008, but also prompted a tangible response from other regional oil producers. Billions of dollars in investment has converted Fujairah from a sleepy sheikhdom into a global energy transshipment hub, with enough capacity to store up to two-thirds of daily global demand (60 million barrels of crude) and more being planned during next two years to rival Singapore. The largest supertankers or VLCCs as they are called can now be seen making a beeline for this port. This has been achieved by linking the UAEs biggest oil fields with a 240 mile long and 48 inch wide pipeline to its only seaport east of Hormuz.


The next great opportunity arose out of what can be termed as an earth-shattering development in the mechanics of global sea trade. From a humble beginning of just 58 containers being carried in a vessel converted for the purpose way back in 1956, containerization has now become the new all-pervasive norm. It can be said to be the unheralded harbinger of globalization, as without its anti-theft, pro-efficiency and cost-effectiveness features, transoceanic shipping may well have remained a mirage.


As the concept took hold in the Indian Ocean region also, terminals dedicated to handling container trade sprang up, as they were bound to, in all the major regional ports. Globally, the share of countries with container ports rose from about 1% in 1966 to nearly 90% by 1983. Pakistan was a bit slow in appreciating this phenomenon as its first container terminal only commenced operations in 1998.


As ship sizes, measured in Twenty-foot Equivalent Units, kept increasing to achieve economy of scale, the larger ships commenced liner services, touching only a few well-located ports, with feeder services transporting the off-loaded containers to their ultimate destinations. Ports in the Indian Ocean best placed to capitalize on this trend were Aden, Colombo and Singapore. By the 1990s Singapore had gone on to become both the busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage as well as the largest transshipment hub. Colombo, though plagued by an unmanageable insurgency in the 1980s, which lasted for nearly three decades, still managed to hold itself as the largest and busiest port in South Asia. Despite being gifted with an ideal location and a natural harbour, Aden had to struggle to retain its position as terrorism and turmoil both took their toll. Salalah in Oman, which was a sleepy fishing and bunkering port in the 1990s, suddenly surged ahead to fill the void created by Aden’s volatile environment, particularly after the USS Cole bombing of 2002, and become a major regional transshipment hub catering to the East African region as well as the eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula.


Dubai’s Jebel Ali, constructed in 1979, did not take long to establish its credentials as the busiest and best-equipped port in the Middle-East, and was amongst the foremost in the region to attract containerized traffic. The U.S.-Iran nuclear standoff at the beginning of the current century, which stoked fears of a possible blockage of the Straits of Hormuz, led to the emergence of such transshipment hubs as Sohar in Oman and Sharjah’s Khor Fakkan, both located outside the Gulf. Khor Fakkan in particular has established itself in a short period of time as the best transshipment port in the region.


From what has been recounted so far, it can easily be gauged that in every crisis lies an opportunity, particularly for those discerning enough to take the plunge, and that every opportunity needs to be seized at the right moment. Risk taking works both ways and the sensible thing to do is to always have a Plan B ready to forestall possible disaster. Every crisis brings turbulence in its wake and the only maritime entities able to weather such storms are the ones who distinguish themselves by virtue of their efficiency, their recourse to best management practices and above all, by their ability to monitor and predict global trends likely to leave an impact on the maritime industry.

 

The writer is a retired Rear Admiral of Pakistan Navy and a Maritime Researcher. He has served as the Director General of the National Centre for Maritime Policy Research at Bahria University, Karachi.
 
09
January

Reigniting the Water Wars

Written By: Dr. Huma Baqai

In the event of a war, states are entitled to suspend treaties, including diplomatic relations by invoking Article 62 of the Vienna Convention. If India or Pakistan consider revoking the treaty, it is itself signaling an act of war. This will equip both the countries with the right under international law to take up any other coercive or non-coercive measure as an act of reprisal. This is not a pretty picture. Perhaps India should also be mindful of the fact that China is an upper-riparian country in Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

What’s ticking between Pakistan and India is not the nuclear bomb, but the water bomb. For years international relations strategists have warned that wars in the future would be over resources. Post-recent tensions in South Asia, Prime Minister Narendera Modi suspended meetings of the committee that oversees water sharing between India and Pakistan, using water as a diplomatic weapon. International experts are of the view that Delhi is using the water issue to put pressure on Pakistan in the dispute over Kashmir. The Indian strategy is to build huge storage facilities and canals over and around the rivers that flow through Indian administered Kashmir but most of the water is allotted to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty. The 56 year old treaty is under strain, and Modi’s stance and strategy is not conducive to its continuity. Like it is said, sharing the waters of the Cauvery has been an issue for decades but it is particularly contentious now. The latest development is that Pakistan has yet again approached the World Bank to address the violation of the Treaty by India. India has successfully stalled the appointment of the chairman of the Arbitration Court of Justice, which Pakistan had requested, by immediately moving in with a request for a neutral expert.


This new twist to the treaty has come at a time when Modi government has chosen to publicly threaten Pakistan with the abrogation of the treaty. India is threatening to cut Pakistan’s water access. The 56 year-old water sharing agreement has run into trouble as tensions have escalated between the rivals, post-Uri attack. Statements by Prime Minister Modi calling for a review of the Treaty where he said that blood and water cannot flow together, and then hinting at revoking the treaty were seen as confirmation of these apprehension.


However, this is not new. India has been following a policy of ‘dewatering Pakistan’ since long. India already has 20 hydro projects on the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan. It is now building another 10 and more are being planned.


In the past also, Islamabad has complained to the international court that the dam in the Gurez Valley, one of dozens planned by India, will affect Pakistan’s river flow and is illegal. The court had halted any permanent work on the river for the moment but India got the permission to continue tunneling and building other associated projects. In 1987, upon Pakistan’s objection, Delhi had to suspend the Tulbul Navigation Project on the Jhelum River. As per a BBC report, sources within Indian Water Resources Ministry have hinted that the project could now be revived. As part of Modi’s aggressive water policy, this will directly have an impact on Pakistan’s agriculture.


The former chairman of Indus River System Authority, Engineer Fateh Ullah Khan Gandapur said on record that India is using water as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ to convert Pakistan into a desert and is diverting the entire flow into the Indian territory of Rajasthan. Salman Bashir, former foreign secretary of Pakistan, categorically said that diversion of Indus water by India will lead to war. Prime Minister Modi in one of his pre-election speeches in Batinda said that water that belongs to India should remain in India. Diverting the waters of Indus is not realistically possible, and cannot be done without triggering a war between the two countries.


Pakistan, India and Afghanistan Water Triangle
India has also tried to use its influence to start interfering with the flow of water from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Islamabad has shown its concern over New Delhi’s increased help to Kabul for development of a number of storages on the Kabul River without addressing Pakistan’s concerns. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his visit to Afghanistan back in 2011 had pledged $1.5bn in development assistance, with special interest in dam-building on the Kabul River. This commitment, apart from other heads, is meant for building 14 small and medium dams with total water storage capacity of 7.4MAF. International financial institutions including the World Bank have agreed to provide $7.079bn for these projects. In 2016, Indian experts completed the feasibility and detailed engineering of 12 projects to be built on River Kabul. If these 12 projects are completed, they will store 4.7 million acre feet of water, squeezing river flows to Pakistan. Moreover, in the absence of major dams in Pakistan, Pakistan will eventually end up buying electricity from Afghanistan, which may be the underlying purpose of this extensive 12 dam plan of the Afghan government with Indian collaboration. India and Afghanistan are actively exploring Chenab like run of the river projects on Afghanistan eastern rivers as a strategic offensive against Pakistan. Pakistan does not have any water treaty with Afghanistan. The rules governing flow of Afghanistan’s eastern rivers, mainly Kabul, Kunar and Chitral into Pakistan are just some internationally accepted principles. Pakistan in retaliation had hinted at diverting Chitral River before its entry into Afghanistan in the event of attempts made to deprive it of its due share. The strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the constant Indian manipulation of the conflict also has Pakistan’s water security at stake. A latest policy brief by Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan titled “Hydro-diplomacy between Pakistan and Afghanistan” says “planned water projects on Kabul River by upper-riparian Afghanistan will adversely affect lower-riparian Pakistan. It is critically important to arrive at a consensus by understanding issues, maintaining historical rights and arriving at benefit sharing options for both countries through the use of Kabul River waters.”

 

We need to showcase our water vision for the future which includes not only raising objections to what India is doing but having a water conservation plan and a strategy to respond to climate change. Pakistan’s water security is intrinsically linked to its food security. In Pakistan little or no dams are being constructed and to add insult to injury the two largest dams are silting.

India has never underestimated the significance of river waters to strengthen its geostrategic interests in the region. It is now working on a double-squeeze water policy against Pakistan by constantly building on the western rivers in occupied Kashmir and facilitating projects on the Kabul River. The establishment in Delhi has a very aggressive water mindset towards Pakistan. It has under successive governments, talked about reviewing the Treaty “to teach Pakistan a lesson”. Modi is just more vocal about it.


The statement by P.M. Modi was not taken lightly by Pakistan, and it immediately approached the World Bank to appoint a chairman for the Court of Arbitration because Pakistan claims that the design of the 330 MW Kishanganga Project violated the treaty. India followed with the demand for the appointment of a neutral expert. The World Bank’s take on the situation is that both processes initiated by the respective countries were advancing at the same time, creating a risk of contradictory outcomes that potentially endanger the Treaty. Thus, the pause is to address this impasse. Arbitration has been halted over two Indian hydro-electric projects on the Chenab River; 850 MW Ratle and 330 MW Kishanganga. The World Bank has counseled bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan. It has urged both the countries to sort out differences and problems by January 2017. The bank had initially agreed to initiate both the processes simultaneously, but decided to pause them post Indian objection.


India has welcomed the decision and is ready to talk to Pakistan bilaterally to resolve the issue. This sudden desire to talk to Pakistan over water has arised because it suits India for several reasons to achieve its end objectives. One; India has initiated this new twist in the Treaty by continuous violation and hurling threats at Pakistan. Two; India has been stonewalling all initiative for dialogue except on the Treaty, this happened only after the issue was taken to the World Bank. More interestingly, India has habitually sidelined the permanent Indus Commission, established under Article VIII of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT), the primary channel of communication between the two countries. Now the question arises why this sudden desire to resolve the water issue through dialogue? It is also important to note here that India, which is ready for bilateral negotiation with Pakistan after Pakistan approached the World Bank, had even suspended routine bi-annual talks between the Indus Commissions of the two countries, and had taken a principle decision to restart work on the Tulbul Navigation Project on the Jhelum.


The last time bilateral dialogue on the Treaty brought some success was in 1978. The situation between India and Pakistan is different today and we are in state of dispute paralysis. The trust deficit between the two countries is at its highest level. The LoC keeps blowing hot and cold. The theatre of conflict now also includes Afghanistan. Indian opposition to CPEC is an open secret. The atmospherics for dialogue to resolve a contentious issue, like water seem unlikely.


The Indian strategy of continuous building of projects and at the same time, threatening Pakistan with revoking of the Treaty and resorting to dialogue only are a time-gaining strategy because of international pressure to achieve its nefarious designs, does not induce any confidence. Pakistan has made it clear that it will not accept any modification or changes in the IWT. Pakistan’s reaction to the World Bank brokered pause is not positive. Since it is seen as an Indian strategy of gaining time to continue building, till it becomes fate accomplished. A review of the Treaty is also not acceptable to Pakistan. The review, as already stated by Indian experts, is aimed at more rights over the western rivers, which is Pakistan’s agriculture’s lifeline.


Legal status of the Treaty
Ahmer Bilal Soofi, an eminent Pakistani lawyer’s take on the Treaty is that “The Treaty has no provision for unilateral “suspension”. It is of an indefinite duration and was never intended to be time-specific, event-specific or regime-specific — but rather state-specific. It will not expire with regime change. It is binding on both the states equally and offers no exit provision. The Treaty survived the two wars as well as other Pakistan-India conflicts because none of them was termed a war under international law.


In the event of a war, states are entitled to suspend treaties, including diplomatic relations by invoking Article 62 of the Vienna Convention. If India or Pakistan consider revoking the Treaty, it is itself signaling an act of war. This will equip both the countries with the right under international law to take up any other coercive or non-coercive measure as an act of reprisal”. This is not a pretty picture. Perhaps India should also be mindful of the fact that China is an upper-riparian country in Indus and Brahmaputra basins.


India is playing with fire using water as a tool of aggressive diplomacy to mount pressure on Pakistan. Using a mutually used resource to gain geo-strategic advantage is a recipe for trouble. On the other hand Pakistan should not take this lightly. India has time and again successfully manipulated the World Bank brokerage to its advantage because of Pakistan’s delayed response and weak water diplomacy. Pakistan needs to put its act together now, both internally and externally. Giving foreign policy statements, largely just for the consumption of the internal audience without any real plan on the ground, will not work. We need to showcase our water vision for the future which includes not only raising objections to what India is doing but having a water conservation plan and a strategy to respond to climate change. Pakistan’s water security is intrinsically linked to its food security. In Pakistan little or no dams are being constructed and to add insult to injury the two largest dams are silting. Pakistani authorities have so far done nothing to develop water uses on River Kabul. There is also no progress on the Munda dam. It paints a very grim picture of our water resources, like it is said, wars in today’s world are not fought on the conventional front but on the diplomatic, intellectual and economic front.

 

The writer is an eminent analyst and anchor person. She is currently an Associate Professor at Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts at IBA, Karachi.

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10
January

باہمی تعاون مگر پاکستان کی قیمت پر نہیں

تحریر: ڈاکٹر ماریہ سلطان

نیوکلیئر سپلائیرز گروپ اگرچہ ایک غیر روایتی نظام ہے تاہم ٹیکنالوجی کو کنٹرول میں رکھنے کا ایک اہم ذریعہ ہے۔روایتی طور پر اس سے نہ صرف حساس ٹیکنالوجی کی تجارت کو منضبط کیا جاتا رہا ہے بلکہ اسی نظام کے ذریعے تمام ہائی ٹیک مواد کی بین الاقوامی تجارت بھی ضابطہ کار میں لائی جاتی رہی ہے۔ دو الگ الگ فہرستوں میں تقسیم اس نظام کا ایک حصہ نیوکلیائی ٹیکنالوجی اور نیوکلیائی ہتھیاروں کے عدم پھیلاؤ کی صراحت کرتا ہے جب کہ دوسرے حصے میں بنیادی خام مال اور اہم مادوں ،جیسے بسمتھ، ایلومینیم وغیرہ، کی تجارت کا کنٹرول شامل ہے۔ مذکورہ دھاتیں اور دیگر نیوکلیائی مواد اور ٹیکنالوجی کسی بھی ملک کی ہائی ٹیک صنعت کی بقا کے لئے انتہائی اہمیت کی حامل ہیں۔ اس لئے نیوکلیئر سپلائیرز گروپ کی اہمیت اور اندیشے ان دونوں درجوں میں آزادانہ تجارت سے جڑے ہوئے ہیں۔


تاہم گزشتہ چند سالوں سے اس ادارے کی غیر جانب داری اور موثر رہنے کے بارے میں شکوک و شبہات جنم لے رہے ہیں۔ ان شکوک کی بنیادی وجہ ہندوستان کو اس گروپ کا ممبر بنانے کے لئے کی جانے والی امریکہ کی جانب سے کوششوں کا بہت عمل دخل ہے۔ گزشتہ چند سالوں میں امریکہ نے انتہائی جانبداری اور لاپروائی کا مظاہرہ کرتے ہوئے انڈیا کے ساتھ نہ صرف نیوکلیئر کے میدان میں باہمی تعاون کے معاہدے کئے اور اس کو نیوکلیئرسپلائیر گروپ کی ممبر شب دلانے کے لئے پہلے سے طے شدہ قوانین کو بائی پاس کرنے کی کوشش کی بلکہ اس باہمی تعاون کے منفی اثرات پاکستان کے نیوکلیئر پروگرام پر بھی پڑنے شروع ہو گئے۔اب نہ صرف پاکستان کو نیوکلیئرسپلائیر گروپ کا ممبر بنانے کی، میڈیا بشمول سوشل میڈیا کے ایک مذموم مہم شروع کر دی گئی ہے بلکہ پاکستان کے نیوکلیئر پروگرام، جس کی سکیورٹی ایک مسلمہ امر ہے، اس پر بھی حملے کئے جا رہے ہیں۔


ایک طرف تو بھارت کو نیوکلیئر سیفٹی کے ضمن میں بدترین ریکارڈ اور جوہری عدمِ پھیلاؤ کے عالمی معاہدے پر دستخط نہ کرنے کے باوجود نیوکلیئرسپلائیر گروپ کی رکنیت دی جارہی ہے جب کہ دوسری طرف پاکستان کے صنعتی اداروں کو غیرروایتی ذرائع استعمال کرتے ہوئے اپاہج کرنے کی منصوبہ بندی کی جارہی ہے۔ سوشل میڈیا اور غیر روایتی پروپیگنڈے کا مذموم مقاصد کے لئے استعمال نہ صرف شرمناک بلکہ معتبر عالمی اداروں کی ساکھ پر سوالیہ نشان کا باعث بھی بنے گا۔ پاکستان کے لئے یہ قطعی طور پر ناقابلِ قبول اور غیر منصفانہ طرزِ عمل ہے۔ اس سے جہاں ہماری مختصر اور طویل مدتی صنعتی ضروریات اور توانائی کے حصول کی کوششوں کو زِک پہنچے گی اس کے ساتھ ساتھ پاکستان کے دفاع کے لئے انتہائی اہم نیوکلیئر صلاحیت کو مذموم پروپیگنڈے کے ذریعے داغ دار کرنے کی کوشش اور نیوکلیئر سپلائیرز گروپ کی اتفاقِ رائے کی روایت ، اس کی دوہری ٹیکنالوجی کی تجارت کو متاثر کرنے کی اہلیت اور بھارت امریکہ کا گٹھ جوڑ، پاکستان کی ترقی کی کوششوں پر بری طرح اثر انداز ہو سکتا ہے۔دونوں ملکوں کی جانب سے نیوکلیئرسپلائیرز گروپ کے پلیٹ فارم کو استعمال کرنے کے یہ خدشات نہ صرف ترقی کے لئے ہمارے مشرق کے ساتھ اشتراک کو متاثر کریں گے بلکہ ہمارے ملک کی مستقبل میں تجارت نیز پاکستان اور امریکہ کے باہمی تعلقات پر بھی بُرے اثرات ڈالیں گے۔


جنیوا میں این ایس جی کے حوالے سے گفت و شنید اور بھارتی وزیرِاعظم کی این ایس جی میں شمولیت کی شاطرانہ کوششوں کو اس وقت شدید دھچکا لگا جب یہ انکشاف ہوا کہ نو بھارتی ادارے نیوکلیئرٹیکنالوجی کے حوالے سے خلاف ورزیوں کی وجہ سے حالیہ عرصے میں امریکہ کی درآمدی کنٹرول کی فہرست کا حصہ تھے۔ اس تمام کے باوجود موجودہ اوبامہ انتظامیہ اپنے آخری ایام میں بھارت کی نیوکلیئرسپلائیرز گروپ کی رکنیت کے حصول میں مدد کر رہی ہے۔ ساتھ ہی پاکستان کے نیوکلیئرپروگرام کے خلاف کسی معتبر شہادت کے بغیر ہی سوشل میڈیا اور انٹیلی جنس رپورٹوں کی بنیاد پرپاکستان کی جانب سے اٹھائے گئے اہم اقدامات کے بارے میں شکوک و شبہات پیدا کرنے کی کوششیں کی جارہی ہیں۔


نیوکلیئرسپلائیر گروپ میں شمولیت ہو یا دیگر نیوکلیئر سے متعلق معاملات پاکستانی قوم کے خدشات بے بنیاد نہیں بلکہ اس کی ایک تازہ مثال اوبامہ انتظامیہ کی جانب سے سات پاکستانی گروپس اور اداروں پر پابندی کا اعلان ہے۔ یو ایس ڈیپارٹمنٹ آف کامرس نے ان سات
Entities
کو ایک نوٹیفکیشن کے تحت
Export Administration Regulations (EAR)
کی فہرست میں شامل کیا ہے۔ تاہم یہ امر باعث تشویش اورمجرمانہ تعصب کی نشاندہی کرتا ہے کہ اس پابندی کا باعث بننے والی کسی بھی وجوہ کا ذکر نہیں کیا گیا ہے۔ موجودہ امریکی انتظامیہ کی جانب سے اپنے آخری مہینوں میں برتے گئے اس تعصب سے مستقبل میں دونوں ملکوں کے تعلقات شدید متاثر ہونے کا خدشہ ہے۔ اس لئے پاکستانی اداروں کی فہرست میں شمولیت کا ازسرِ نو جائزہ لینے کی اشد ضرورت ہے۔


غیرمصدقہ اور مشکوک ذرائع جیسا کہ سوشل میڈیا، تجارتی ویب سائٹوں، انٹیلی جنس رپورٹوں اور وکی لیکس کی بنیاد پر تیار کردہ الفا پروجیکٹ پر شکوک کے بادل چھائے ہوئے ہیں۔ اس مشکوک رپورٹ کی بنیاد پاکستان کے پروگرام کے بارے میں شکوک و شبہات اور خدشات پیدا کئے جار ہے ہیں۔ ایسی رپورٹوں سے نہ صرف پاکستان کی نیوکلیئرسپلائر گروپ میں شمولیت کا کیس پیچیدہ ہوجائے گابلکہ نئی امریکی انتظامیہ کے ساتھ باہمی تعاون کی کوششوں کو بھی نقصان پہنچے گا۔ ایسے ذرائع پر بھروسہ کرکے تشکیل دی گئی رپورٹ میں کالعدم اداروں کی فہرست میں شمولیت یا پاکستان کے نیوکلیئرپروگرام کے بارے میں تشویش پیدا کرنے کا جواز نہیں بنایا جانا چاہئے۔ پاکستانی کمپنیوں کی امریکہ کے کالعدم اداروں کی فہرست میں شمولیت ، جیسا کہ الفا رپورٹ میں تذکرہ کیا گیا، پاکستان کی دفاعی ، نیوکلیائی اور عمومی صنعتوں کو بری طرح متاثر کرے گی۔


مذکورہ پروجیکٹ کا بظاہر مذموم مقصد مخصوص عناصر کے ایما پر پروپیگنڈا کو بنیاد بنا کر پاکستانی معیشت کے لئے ریڑھ کی ہڈی کی حیثیت رکھنے والی صنعتوں کو نشانہ بنانا ہے۔ مزید برآں یہ رپورٹ موجودہ امریکی انتظامیہ کی جانب سے مستقبل کی امریکی انتظامیہ کے ساتھ پاکستان کے تعلقات پیچیدہ تر بنانے کی کوشش بھی ہے۔
پاکستان امریکہ کے ساتھ باہمی تعاون پر مبنی تعلقات قائم کرنے کا خواہش مند ہے اور پاکستان نیوکلیئرسپلائیرز گروپ کے معیارِ اہلیت پر پورا اترتا ہے۔ بے بنیاد،کمزور اور مشکوک معلومات کو بنیاد بنا کر امریکہ کی جانب سے پابندیوں کے شکار اداروں کی فہرست میں توسیع پاکستان کی تجارت اور ترقی پر منفی اثرات ڈالے گی۔ اس طریقے سے بغیر کسی اصول اور معیار کے بین الاقوامی برآمدی کنٹرولز کو سیاسی مقاصد کے حصول کے لئے استعمال کرنا باعثِ تشویش ہے۔ اسی طرح اگر بھارت کو ایٹمی ہتھیاروں کا پھیلاؤ روکنے کا قانوناً پابند نہیں کیا جاتا تو اس سے سب سے زیادہ نقصان نان این پی ٹی ممالک کو ہی ہو گا۔


پروجیکٹ الفا کے ذریعے یہ کوشش کی جا رہی ہے کہ پاکستان کو این ایس جی کی ممبرشپ نہ دی جائے اور یہ بے بنیاد تاثر دیا جارہا ہے کہ پاکستان خفیہ طور پر ایٹمی اور میزائل ٹیکنالوجی کے حصول کے لئے کوشاں ہے۔ پروجیکٹ الفا نہ صرف ٹھوس مواد سے محروم ہے بلکہ اس میں توازن کا خیال بھی نہیں رکھا گیا اور بظاہر اس پروجیکٹ کے ذریعے امریکہ۔ بھارت دفاعی صنعتوں کے مابین تعاون میں اضافے کے لئے راہ ہموار کرنا اور بھارت کو نیوکلیئرسپلائیرز گروپ کی رکنیت دینے کی کوشش ہے۔غیر روایتی نیٹ ورکس اور میڈیا میں چلائی جار ہی اس مسلسل مہم کا مقصد پاکستان کے دفاع،نیوکلیئر اور ہائی ٹیک صنعت کے خلاف پروپیگنڈا کرنا ہے جو کہ اصل حقائق سے قطعی مختلف ہے۔


بدقسمتی سے بھارت اور امریکہ کا باہمی تعاون بھارت کے لئے این ایس جی کی رکنیت کی درخواست تک محدود نہیں ہے بلکہ اس کاپس پردہ محرک دونوں ملکوں کے مابین دفاعی تجارت اور ٹیکنالوجی میں تعاون بھی ہے۔ اس تعاون کی چار جہتیں ہیں یعنی یو اے ویز
(Unmanned Aerial Vehicles)
کی بھارت میں پیداوار،بحرِ ہند میں بھارتی بالادستی کے لئے اقدامات،ایف سولہ کی فراہمی کا دفاعی معاہدہ اور جیٹ پروپلژن سسٹم جس سے بھارت اور امریکہ کے درمیان ہمیشہ کے لئے دفاعی معاہدہ تشکیل پا جائے گا۔


اسی طرح بھارت اور اسرائیل کا بری ،فضائی اور بحری فوجی تعاون بشمول انٹیلی جنس کا تبادلہ بھی جاری ہے۔ موساد اور را کے مابین تعاون صرف انٹیلی جنس کے تبادلے تک محدود نہیں بلکہ اسرائیل بھارتی فوجیوں کو سرجیکل سٹرائیکس کا اہل بنانے کے لئے تربیت بھی دے رہا ہے۔ دونوں ملکوں کے دفاعی اور سکیورٹی مفادات مشترکہ ہوتے جارہے ہیں جس کے نتیجے میں دونوں ملک وسیع پیمانے پر تعاون کررہے ہیں۔ جن میں بھارتی فضائیہ کے لئے جدید لڑاکا سسٹمز کی فراہمی،طویل فاصلے تک نشاندہی کرنے والے ٹریکنگ راڈار، زمین سے فضا میں طویل فاصلے تک مار کرنے والے میزائل،بحریہ کو جدید جنگی کشتیوں کی فراہمی اور بہتری میں تعاون، اینٹی سب میرین ہیلی کاپٹروں کے لئے تعاون،جاسوس سٹیلائٹ اور اینٹی بالسٹک میزائل ٹیکنالوجی میں تعاون شامل ہے۔ بھارت اور اسرائیل کے درمیان دفاعی اور ہائی ٹیک صنعتوں میں تعاون تقریباً نو ارب ڈالر تک پہنچ چکا ہے۔ دونوں ملک کشمیر میں مشترکہ طور پرپُر امن جدوجہدِ آزادی کو دبانے کے لئے کوشاں ہیں۔ سوشل میڈیا کے ذریعے پاکستان کو نیوکلیئر دھمکیاں انتہائی غیر ذمہ دارانہ طرزِ عمل ہے۔ اپنے مقاصد کے حصول کے لئے پروپیگنڈا مہم اور سوشل میڈیا کواستعمال کرنے میں ماہر اسرائیل کی وزارتِ دفاع کو چاہئے تھا کہ اسلام آباد کی طرف سے ردِ عمل آنے سے قبل ہی پاکستان کو دی جانے والی دھمکیوں سے لاتعلقی کا اعلان کردیتی۔ تاہم جس
Website
نے اسرائیلی دھمکی والی خبر دی تھی اس کی تردید کرنے میں اسرائیل نے 96گھنٹے کی تاخیر کی۔ یہ تاخیر معاملے کی حساسیت کو دیکھتے ہوئے بلاوجہ نہیں تھی بلکہ حالیہ دھمکی سوشل میڈیا کو بطورِ ذریعہ استعمال کرنے اور اسے علمی مباحثے کا حصہ بنا کر حقیقی صورتِ حال کا تاثر دینے کی بہترین مثال ہے۔


پاکستان کے دفاع، ہائی ٹیک صنعتوں اور نیوکلیئرپروگرام کے خلاف ایسے غیرمحفوظ ذرائع سے قائم کیا گیا تاثر قطعی ناقابلِ قبول ہے۔ سیاسی بنیادوں پر پابندیوں کو وسعت دینا اور بھارت امریکہ اور بھارت اسرائیل دفاعی تعاون پاکستان کے لئے مزید پیچیدگیاں پیدا کر رہا ہے۔ بھارت اور امریکہ کا یہ تعاون اپنے مقاصد کو عملی جامہ پہنانے کے لئے کسی بھی ملک کو دہشت گردی کے نام پر نشانہ بنانے کے لئے بھی استعمال ہو سکتا ہے۔ مزید برآں امریکہ کی جانب سے بھارت کو ہائی ٹیک تجارت اور حساس ٹیکنالوجی کے میدان میں تعاون فراہم کیا جارہا ہے اور دوسری طرف پاکستان کو نان ٹیرف اور ٹیرف رکاوٹوں کے ذریعے ننانوے اعشاریہ آٹھ فیصد رسائی سے محروم کیا جا رہاہے۔


دلچسپ امر یہ ہے کہ امریکہ نے بھارت کے اصرار پر ان نو بھارتی اداروں کو پابندی کے شکار اداروں کی فہرست سے نکال دیا ہے جونیوکلیئر ٹیکنالوجی کے حوالے سے غیر قانونی سرگرمیوں میں ملوث رہے ہیں۔ جس سے بھارت پر عائد تجارتی پابندیاں ہٹا لی گئی ہیں۔ یہ تمام ادارے بھارت کے میزائل اور خلائی پروگرام پر دن رات عمل پیرا ہیں۔
بھارت کی این ایس جی میں شمولیت کے لئے امریکہ اس لئے بھی بھرپور کوششیں کر رہا ہے کہ بھارت اور امریکہ کی صنعت مشترک ہوگی جس سے بھارت کے بغیر ایس سی او ممالک کے مابین دفاعی تعاون کم موثر ہوجائے گا۔لگتا یہی ہے کہ ایشیاکی سطح پر بھارت کے ساتھ امریکہ اور دیگر چائنا مخالف ممالک کا ایک علاقائی بلاک بننے جا رہاہے۔ موجودہ امریکہ انتظامیہ کا بھارت کی طرف بے پناہ جھکاؤ امریکہ کے اپنے مفادات کو بھی ساؤتھ ایشیا میں زک پہنچائے گا کیونکہ اس خطے میں امریکہ تیزی سے صرف ایک ملک کے ساتھ تعاون کی جانب بڑھ رہا ہے۔


ماضی میں بھارت کو این ایس جی میں دی گئی رعایت عدم پھیلاؤ کے مقاصد کے لئے اچھی ثابت ہوئی، نہ ہی اس سے جنوبی ایشیا میں استحکام آسکا۔ ایٹمی و کیمیائی ہتھیاروں کے عدم پھیلاؤکو یقینی بنانے کے لئے علاقائی استحکام اہم ترین عنصر ہے۔ نان این پی ٹی ممالک کو رکنیت دینے کے حوالے سے اس کلب کے تمام (اڑتالیس) ممالک کو غیر امتیازی طریقہ کار اپنانا چاہئے۔ نہ کہ صرف ایک ملک کو استثنا دینے کی کوشش۔ پاکستان دیگر نان این پی ٹی ممالک کے ساتھ بیک وقت این ایس جی میں شمولیت کا خواہش مند ہے۔ جس کے لئے ضروری ہے کہ رکنیت کے لئے نان این پی ٹی ممالک کی جانب سے دی گئی دونوں درخواستوں کا منصفانہ اور بیک وقت جائزہ لیا جائے۔ ایسا منصفانہ اور بے تعصبانہ طریقہ اختیار کرنے سے نیوکلیائی پھیلاؤ کو روکنے میں بہت زیادہ مدد ملے گی۔ پاکستان تقریباً ایک عشرے سے این ایس جی کے ساتھ کام کر رہاہے اور اب باقاعدہ طور پر گروپ میں شمولیت کے لئے تیار ہے۔


اس تمام صورت حال میں جس کو نیوکلیئر سکیورٹی اور تجارت کے نام پر پاکستان کے خلاف استعمال کیا جا رہا ہے ایک اور پہلو کو بھی نظرانداز نہیں کرنا چاہئے۔ وہ پہلو پاکستان کی صنعتی ترقی کے لئے ٹیکنالوجی کا استعمال ہے۔ پاکستان اور چین سی پیک منصوبے کو صرف تجارتی راہداری کے معنوں میں نہیں لیا جانا چاہئے بلکہ پاکستان، آنے والی دہائیوں میں، اس کو ایک مکمل معاشی و صنعتی منصوبہ کے طور پر دیکھتا ہے۔ پاکستان میں صنعتی ترقی کے لئے ٹیکنالوجی کا حصول بہت اہم ہو گا اور کسی طرح کی قدغن ہمارے بہتر مستقبل میں ایک رکاوٹ تصور کی جائے گی۔

مضمون نگار ساؤتھ ایشین سٹریٹجک سٹیبلٹی انسٹی ٹیوٹ اور

SASSI

یونیورسٹی کی ڈائریکٹر جنرل اور چیئرپرسن ہیں۔ مصنفہ جنوبی ایشیا کے نیو کلیئر آرمز کنٹرول اور ڈس آرمامنٹ معاملات اور دفاع کی ماہر تجزیہ نگارہیں۔ ان کے تحقیقی مضامین مختلف جرنلز‘ اخبارات اور کتابوں میں شائع ہوتے ہیں۔

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وجیکٹ الفا کے ذریعے یہ کوشش کی جا رہی ہے کہ پاکستان کو این ایس جی کی ممبرشپ نہ دی جائے اور یہ بے بنیاد تاثر دیا جارہا ہے کہ پاکستان خفیہ طور پر ایٹمی اور میزائل ٹیکنالوجی کے حصول کے لئے کوشاں ہے۔ پروجیکٹ الفا نہ صرف ٹھوس مواد سے محروم ہے بلکہ اس میں توازن کا خیال بھی نہیں رکھا گیا اور بظاہر اس پروجیکٹ کے ذریعے امریکہ ۔بھارت دفاعی صنعتوں کے مابین تعاون میں اضافے کے لئے راہ ہموار کرنا اور بھارت کو نیوکلیئرسپلائیرز گروپ کی رکنیت دینے کی کوشش ہے۔غیر روایتی نیٹ ورکس اور میڈیا میں چلائی جار ہی اس مسلسل مہم کا مقصد پاکستان کے دفاع،نیوکلیئر اور ہائی ٹیک صنعت کے خلاف پروپیگنڈا کرنا ہے جو کہ اصل حقائق سے قطعی مختلف ہے۔

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07
July

SCO: New Prospects

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Taj M. Khattak

The influence of SCO in regional and global issues is also increasing slowly but consistently and is expected to grow further as the number of observer countries and dialogue partners increase. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to state that in not too distant a future, SCO has the potential to transition from its current label as a regional ‘hub club’ to a powerful cooperation forum that would deal with security and economic issues on a wider geographical space from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe.

Pakistan recently became a full member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) after Foreign Affairs' Advisor, Mr. Sartaj Aziz signed a ‘Memorandum of Obligations’ (MoOs) at Heads of State Summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan along with Foreign Ministers of six member states: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Except Uzbekistan which was admitted in 2001, the others had been members of SCO since 1996 when it was first formed. Pakistan’s entry into SCO, along with that of India, had been approved in principle by member states last year at Ufa in Russia, subject to procedural formalities but they joined as full members in June 2017.

 

sconewprso.jpgSCO has a robust organizational structure where ‘The Council of Heads of States’ form its top decision making body which meets at SCO’s summit held each year in one of the member states’ capital cities by rotation. The second highest decision making body is ‘The Council of Heads of Governments’ which holds annual summits during which members discuss issues of multilateral cooperation and approve organization’s budget. The global footprint of SCO in terms of human race and economic clout is huge and can be gauged from the fact that between them the eight permanent members of SCO constitute nearly half the world’s population and a quarter of world’s GDP.


Quite appropriately then, SCO has done well to join hands with other international and regional bodies beginning with UNO where it has an observer status in the General Assembly since 2004. Likewise, it has reached out to Commonwealth of Independent States (2005), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (2005), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (2007), the Economic Co-operation Organization (2007), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2011), the Conference of Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (2014) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (2015).


In its observer’s status, Pakistan had been regularly attending SCO’s meeting since 2005 but applied for full membership in 2010, becoming the first country amongst observer members to apply for an elevated status. Both India and Pakistan are expected to speedily complete the remaining process preferably before next year’s planned Summit in Kazakhstan for their integration in the organization’s cooperation mechanism which includes regular meetings between their foreign ministers and heads of the states.


Given the state of Indo-Pak relations, simultaneous membership of SCO by these two countries must have been a difficult proposition but it goes to the credit of member states to pull it off smoothly and successfully. The accession of Pakistan and India to SCO will undoubtedly enhance its relevance both regionally and globally. Iran, which has been attending the SCO’s proceedings as an observer, could be the next country to join SCO as a full member thus adding further to its importance. Iran’s joining of SCO could happen sooner than later in view of its worsening relations with U.S. on the nuclear deal signed during former President Obama’s administration and the political re-alignment in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.


SCO has an appropriate focus on creating improved security environments for weaker states in the region resulting from potential fallout from further instability in Afghanistan. This has been so right from its inception when in 1996 its members first signed what they called ‘Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions’ followed by another agreement the following year called ‘Reduction of Military Forces in Border Region’. There has, however, been little constructive work on the ground to prepare weaker states of the organization located on southern fringes of two geographically vast and militarily strong countries like Russia and China, to cope with fallout from Afghanistan if it slides into deeper chaos as a result of uncertain and unpredictable actions by U.S. administration – a danger which has increased ever since the incumbent U.S. President assumed power in Washington DC.


Regular summit meetings in the last few years have enhanced SCO’s status as an important and effective multilateral forum where actual issues of international policy, economy, regional security and security come under serious discussion. In contemporary global milieu, these four elements are becoming increasingly crucial to stimulate investment for economic development. Pakistan stands to gain from full membership of SCO as it will provide an opportunity to play its cards better with countries like U.S. and multilateral donors including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank where U.S. wields considerable influence and uses these forums for political gains.


The influence of SCO in regional and global issues is also increasing slowly but consistently and is expected to grow further as the number of observer countries and dialogue partners increase. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to state that in not too distant a future, SCO has the potential to transition from its current label as a regional ‘hub club’ to a powerful co-operation forum that would deal with security and economic issues on a wider geographical space from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe.


The permanent membership status of SCO is also likely to help Pakistan in gaining greater access to resource base and energy projects within the organization’s framework. This could go a long way in shoring up its economic vulnerabilities; strengthen diplomatic standing in its interactions with other countries and overall rendering it less prone to pressure tactics by financially and militarily strong countries.


A pertinent example of such pressure tactics is the Iran-Pak gas pipeline project where Pakistan has been pressurized to shelve the project and opt instead for liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from Qatar. The U.S. Agency for International Development USAID had even engaged a consultant to assist Pakistan in reaching an agreement for a commercial deal for LNG supply from Qatar. The double irony is that even such an arrangement could also be severely impacted by ongoing Saudi-Qatar tensions, adding to difficulties in Pakistan’s endeavors to secure dependable energy lifelines so vital for our development.


Pakistan’s membership of SCO will boost several other major projects such as military and technical cooperation with Russia and strategic communication projects with China. Pakistan’s recent offer to SCO members to use Pakistan’s ports once CPEC is completed holds a lot of promise for increased commercial activity in the region and amongst SCO countries through Arabian Sea trade routes. This appears very logical given Pakistan’s focus on a trade strategy of developing linkages with neighbors, leveraging its geographical location and capitalizing on regional connectivity initiatives. Cross-border trade is especially important for land-locked countries to the north of Pakistan. Both SCO countries and Pakistan stand to gain substantially in this matrix through expansion of trade and investment as well as greater integration through road networks, rail, fiber optic cables and energy pipelines which are the hallmark of CPEC project.

 

Pakistan’s membership of SCO will boost several other major projects such as military and technical co-operation with Russia and strategic communication projects with China. Pakistan’s recent offer to SCO members to use Pakistan’s ports once CPEC is completed holds a lot of promise for increased commercial activity in the region and amongst SCO countries through Arabian Sea trade routes. This appears very logical given Pakistan’s focus on a trade strategy of developing linkages with neighbors, leveraging its geographical location and capitalizing on regional connectivity initiatives. Cross-border trade is especially important for land-locked countries to the north of Pakistan. Both SCO countries and Pakistan stand to gain substantially in this matrix through expansion of trade and investment as well as greater integration through road networks, rail, fiber optic cables and energy pipelines which are the hallmark of CPEC project.

As there is more progress on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Silk Road Economic Belt with Eurasian Economic Union, the role of Pakistan in regional economy and infrastructure projects will increase which in turn will have a positive impact on its standing in the SCO.


In the last two decades, SCO has gradually but steadily consolidated its place as an important international forum which is becoming difficult to ignore in current global politics. This is being acknowledged in Western capital though in the same vein they are also critical of its objectives.


Afghanistan perched on southern flank of two major members of SCO (Russia and China) and from where they perceive a threat of instability, also happens to be Pakistan’s northern flank. There is thus a commonality of interest to join hands in thwarting designs of destabilizing elements and enhancing regional security for benefit of all countries. Pakistan might find that looking at multiple options to deepen economic cooperation through use of SCO forum may well be the best remedy against a continuing threat of terrorism and violence. Pakistan would do well to utilize this platform in areas in which SCO offers the maximum dividend and has the best potential, namely greater connectivity in state-of-the-art communications, international standard rail and road network, and multi-dimensional energy corridors.


While SCO has the potential of mediating and resolving varying problems, we shouldn’t be overzealous in bringing its long outstanding disputes to this forum for resolution as this could retard progress on much needed economic integration and be counter-productive. Besides, ignoring ‘development-centric’ core interests of other member states could adversely affect the growth of SCO and reduce its relevance regionally and internationally, as indeed has happened in the case of SAARC, albeit due to an entirely different set of reasons.

 

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy.

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