Pakistan’s membership of SCO

Written By: Lt Gen Talat Masood (R)

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established in 2001, with the aim of countering extremism in the region and to strengthen border security. Its undeclared mission was also to act as a check against the growing influence of U.S. and NATO countries in the region. With the recent addition of India and Pakistan as full members SCO currently has eight members.


In many ways Pakistan’s membership of SCO is a positive development, as it will facilitate the advancement of regional peace and enhance opportunities for economic development. Full membership of the organization will contribute toward deepening and widening the relationship with China. It should also enhance the level of relations with Russia and by enabling greater interaction with Central Asian states open up new avenues of cooperation.

 

pakmembereco.jpgWith Pakistan already engaged in the implementation of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flag bearer project of One Belt, One Road (OBOR), it was only logical that it became a member of SCO. The further strengthening of relationship with China could not have come at a better time. The U.S. Congress has been building pressure to cut off economic and military assistance to Pakistan. In tandem India has tried to isolate Pakistan. But Pakistan’s expanding ties with China could partly neutralize the negative fallout. What is more reassuring that our relations with China are gaining momentum at a time when it is clearly an ascending global power.


These economic and political benefits of SCO will, however, accrue provided Pakistan prepares itself to take full advantage of it. Much would depend on how efficiently it implements the various CPEC related projects and subsequently manages them. The Chinese side is well prepared and thorough in their planning and execution of the entire project. No doubt Pakistan Planning Commission has been meticulously associated with the planning of CPEC and overseeing its progress but a lot would depend on how seriously the provincial and federal governments take their responsibility.


It is fairly evident that the Chinese side is well prepared and motivated to implement the projects of CPEC. The onus lies on Pakistan to step up its preparations and inject greater level of coordination and professionalism in planning and execution.


At a time when Indian hostility is at its peak and relations with U.S. are going through a difficult phase strengthening our economic and strategic partnership with China and bringing us closer to Russia is expected to partly counter its ill affects. Pakistan by becoming a full member of SCO feels far more confident that the attempt by India to isolate Pakistan has been largely reduced. Moreover, as the Foreign Secretary stated that there are strong historical and cultural links as well as several economic and strategic complementarities of Pakistan with members of SCO.


Whereas, China seeing Pakistan’s great potential in its location and its adversarial relationship with India views it as a country with which its strategic interests converge.

 

As astute observers of the region have noted, by developing a close relationship with the rising power China and improving relations with Russia, Pakistan is on the right side of history. Especially at a time when global power equations are in a state of flux.

For Pakistan, attitude of Trump Administration and the Congress bordering open hostility act as an additional incentive to align itself closely with China.


As astute observers of the region have noted, by developing a close relationship with the rising power China and improving relations with Russia, Pakistan is on the right side of history. Especially at a time when global power equations are in a state of flux.


SCO does offer India and Pakistan another platform for improving relations. A major thrust of the Treaty is on “Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation”. In the present circumstances it would, however, depend largely on India to take the initiative. So far it has used SCO as another forum to lambast Pakistan. It is regrettable that this is despite the fact that it is an agreed principle of the organization that the forum will not be exploited for political point scoring. Anti-Pakistan rhetoric was also at its peak during Modi’s visit to the U.S. If this hostile attitude persists also in the context of SCO, no tangible progress on normalization of relations with India can be expected.
Interestingly, despite the pleasant rhetoric and substantial progress on political and strategic issues, differences between Indian and U.S. policies exist. Major issues of contention are work visas, differences on Paris climate pact and exports from India.


If however, India and Pakistan were to cooperate on issues related to terrorism it could bring about a qualitative change in the overall security situation in the region. It could also create an enabling environment whereby the two countries could address issues. Regrettably, there seem scant prospects of that with India presently pursuing just the opposite policy by supporting anti-Pakistan terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Whereas, Pakistan in recent past has taken firm measures to curb the activities of Haqqani Network in FATA. In any case with over fifty percent of Afghan territory not under government control and Taliban operating freely the allegation by U.S. and Afghanistan of Pakistan’s complicity merely reflects scapegoating their failure.


One could also argue that cutting off the U.S. assistance could well be a blessing in disguise. For it will compel Pakistan to mobilize internal resources and reduce foreign reliance to which it has got addicted over the years. Furthermore, SCO opens up new opportunities for trade and economic relations with Central Asian countries and beyond that Pakistan could utilize.

 

It is regrettable that this is despite the fact that it is an agreed principle of the organization that the forum will not be exploited for political point scoring. Anti-Pakistan rhetoric was also at its peak during Modi’s visit to the U.S. If this hostile attitude persists also in the context of SCO, no tangible progress on normalization of relations with India can be expected.

What is, however, most worrisome that there is emergence of Islamic State in Afghanistan, especially in areas bordering Pakistan. This has raised serious concern in Russia and China that these groups could expand their activities to their territories. Pakistan’s efforts at taking preventive measures against these groups and improving border management is being duly recognized by Russia and China.


India finds SCO an opportunity to assert itself in central and south Asian region. At the economic level it will be able to further expand its trade links with China. With Russia its ties have been weakening due to its heavy tilt toward U.S. CPEC does provide a platform to revive and strengthen its relations with Moscow. Nonetheless, considering the acute tensions that presently exist between Washington and Moscow, India will have to tread carefully. India perhaps considers itself sufficiently confident that its size, current state of economy and international stature allows that flexibility to balance the relationship.


New Delhi’s heavy tilt toward Washington and the latter’s somewhat hostile attitude toward Pakistan provide ample justification for our policy makers to lean heavily on China and strengthen relations with Russia. China would also be keenly watching how India’s strategic alignment with U.S. would play out in the context of SCO.

 

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
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