SCO – Pakistan’s insertion and opportunities

By Muhammad Javed Siddique

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union (in 1991) and the emergence of the United States as the sole superpower, countries like Russia and China  the aspiring major powers  felt the need to engage and cooperate with each other to protect their interests, especially in Central Asia. The objectives of the SCO, therefore, are to protect political interests of the member countries and promote security, economic and trade cooperation between them.

Over time with the emergence of a terrorist threat to these countries, counterterrorism has also become a key area for cooperation in the SCO. Another very important consideration for the SCO has been to promote regional connectivity. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) formally Shanghai Five appeared in the dome of world politics in June 2001 when Uzbekistan joined it as a sixth permanent member country. Evolution of the SCO from Shanghai Five, which was established in 1996, was solely an initiative of China.

China implicitly intended to have some check on the emerging great powers’ row in the region over the strategic cum economic gains. Also, to exercise influence over the growing radicalized elements as a result of the improvised financial condition, poverty and unstable politico-economic conditions. This grouping provided an opportunity to resource-rich neighboring states of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia to chalk out mutually beneficial policies.

Establishment of the SCO was a noticeable development at the arena of contemporary global politics. Organizations world over viewed SCO is as a challenging forum to the player(s), posing threat to their mutually agreed agenda. On the other hand, the regional stakeholders conceived the SCO as a window of opportunity to combat security threats and consolidate peace and sustainable development.

Long outstanding Sino-Russia border dispute became a multilateral issue with the disintegration of former the Soviet Union and the emergence of Central Asian Republics (CARs) in 1991. Russia, China and its three bordering states  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, initially framed an agreement and later in 1996 signed the Shanghai Agreement on confidence building in the military field focusing the border area.

Nevertheless, China took the lead role by devising a mechanism to combat three vis-a-vis evils separatism, extremism and terrorism waged by the radicalized elements, while promoting economic ties. This development gave a new dimension to the organization towards multilateralism; meant for tackling security issues especially in Xingjian province. This arrangement also addressed the concerns of CARs regarding territorial integrity and committed concerted efforts against perceived common threats from the extremist forces especially to curb nationalist sentiments among Turkish speaking Uyghur’s. The sole motive behind this move was to negate establishment of East Turkistan.

The SCO provided China with an opportunity to make access in the Central Asian region to meet her increasingly growing energy needs and to dominate Central Asian markets through extensive commercial activities. Russia, on the other hand, conceived the SCO as an opportunity for preserving its strategic interests in CARs and to maintain her traditional influence over ‘near abroad’.

Over the passage of time, China and Russia realized convergence of their priorities to complement each other’s national interests. Regular conduct of joint military exercises under the auspices of the SCO is the manifestation of their joint concerns to combat security related issues on a perpetual basis.

So far Central Asians are concerned, being a victim of seventy-four years long iron curtain and aspirant to improve domestic economies, welcomed this grouping for seeking foreign direct investments (FDIs). The security vulnerability was their area of concern, hence, the leadership of CARs felt strengthened by associating themselves with this organization. Though socio-economic issues do not fall directly under the preview of the SCO, however, it is a viable forum to prevent interstate conflict among member states and to make Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).

As per the SCO’s charter adopted in 2002, its main objectives are to strengthen mutual trust, good neighborliness, develop effective cooperation in political affairs, economy, trade, science and technology, transport and environmental protection, maintenance regional peace, security and stability.

A historic inclusion of Pakistan and India as a full member of the SCO in its 17th annual Summit held on 9th June 2018 at Astana Kazakhstan further escalated its geopolitical and geo-economics significance in the world. The SCO is playing its role as a vital regional organization, which represents the largest geographical bloc in the world and has also now become the biggest bloc in terms of population which almost having half of the world population after the inclusion of Pakistan and India. It’s also covered the 80 percent of Eurasia landmass and one-quarter of total world GDP.

Pakistan, due to its close friendship with China and because of the emergence of independent states in Central Asia, has always been interested in promoting regional connectivity and itself as a pivotal state or as a bridge, especially for landlocked Central Asian states. Pakistan has been very much interested in projecting itself and its interests within the region. Therefore, Pakistan became an observer in the SCO in 2005.

Pakistan is at the crossroad of Central Asia, South West Asia and South Asia very devotedly monitored the promising regional grouping and conceived it as an opportunity to play a liable, productive and encouraging role. Since Pakistan, in the upshot of 9/11, badly suffered on account of terrorism and extremism, she decided to join the SCO in any capacity considering the converging interests.

After Pakistan’s joined SCO held a top-level meeting in the Russian city of Sochi on December 2017, where Pakistan’s Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbassi speaking at the Council of Heads of Government rightly remarked that SCO held tremendous potential for connectivity, trade, energy and economic development and Pakistan was all set to bring more vitality to the organization as it possessed great potential for global and regional trade as well economic activities.

Pakistan with a consumer market of over 200 million people, vast business potential and a rapidly developing infrastructure, did offer the SCO enormous opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation and fulfilling the vision of the SCO.

By extending membership to Pakistan, there are numerous opportunities for the SCO as well to benefit from Pakistan. Pakistan being a very prominent regional player, can offer her expertise in certain areas albeit supporting SCO agenda. In many ways, Pakistan’s full membership is relatively beneficial for SCO’s member states in general and for Pakistan in particular. The Central Asian Republics, China and Russia require inexpensive and nearest port to access the oil-rich Middle Eastern region, mineral-rich Africa and economically integrated Europe.

Importantly, Pakistan’s Gwadar deep-sea port is located on the gateway of the Strait of Hormuz, where roughly 40 percent of world petroleum passes and the Middle East that possesses 48 percent of the world oil and 38 percent of natural gas reserves which could well, make Pakistan a regional trade and energy corridor. Resultantly, Pakistan can conclude joint ventures with SCO’s members to improve its dilapidated road and rail infrastructure connecting its mainland to Eurasia, enhance economic relations with them, embark upon industrialization and earn billion dollars as transit fees.

On the other side, Central Asian and Russian potential oil and gas resources would mitigate Pakistan’s ever-rising energy crisis. According to the British Petroleum’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy, only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have 3.6 billion barrels of proven oil and 663.8 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. The stalled work on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is expected to begin expeditiously. In this regards, Pakistan would be able to import gas through TAPI. It can also seek out the technical assistance from Russian state-run gas giant, Gazprom, on its energy projects.

Moreover, Kazakhstan possesses the Central Asian largest recoverable coal reserves, 33.6 billion tonnes. Besides, according to the World Nuclear Association, it holds the second largest reserves of uranium with 679,300 tons, 12 percent of the world’s total uranium. Pakistan needs potential resources of uranium to produce inexpensive and clean nuclear energy and use them for strategic purposes.

Terrorism is another big matter of concern, which insidiously plaguing Pakistan with losses of more than $ 123 billion and around 80,000 lives. Pakistan shares SCO’s concerns regarding the three evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism. Under the umbrella of the SCO, it would acquire comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-militancy assistance from the Tashkent-based Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to stamp out rampaging terrorism, bubbling militancy and disruptive low-intensity insurgency of restive Balochistan.

Moreover, coordinative intelligence sharing and joint operation between Pakistan and Uzbekistan will greatly help them clamp down upon the deadly Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that carries out fatal terrorist attacks on Pakistan time and again. Pakistan can also adopt a two-pronged approach after joining hands with the SCO to ruin drug cultivation in Afghanistan and bust drug cartels operating in the region. With China, Russia and India, Pakistan may conduct vigorous joint naval anti-narcotics drive in the Arabian Sea against the drug smuggling.

With the support of the SCO members, Pakistan can play a bigger role in Afghan’s reconciliation and rehabilitation. Afghanistan possesses over $ 3 trillion worth of mineral resources. Pakistan can persuade China, Russia and CARs to come forward with their technological know-how and fiscal resources to help Afghanistan benefit from its natural resources and play a bigger role in Afghan reconciliation. When suitable, Pakistan may bank upon the SCO to resolve the plethora of Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, reportedly supporting terrorism and insurgency inside Pakistan.

In the end, our relationship with China is strengthened. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is already included in China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a flagship project. Now, we are a member of the Shanghai club which is China-led.  Joining of the SCO is an important foreign policy milestone for Pakistan, so it is the right time for Pakistan to review its foreign policy and take some bold step to safeguard her national interest and let no one challenge its sovereignty.

The US stays in Afghanistan to pursue its objective of keeping the region in turmoil for the achievement of its strategic interests in the region with Indian support. It is crystal clear that the US is supporting India as a counter-balance against the Chinese influence in the region and beyond and views the success of CPEC as a potential threat to his strategic interests. Peace and stability in the region would surely act as a catalyst to the success of the Chinese initiative.

Therefore the US would do everything possible not to let that happen. Pakistan will have to evolve a long-term strategy to safeguard its strategic interests and fight against terrorism keeping in view the likely emerging scenario. Under the circumstances, SCO offered a credible counter-balance to the negative fallout of the US-India nexus in thwarting the CPEC and fighting the phenomenon of terrorism and extremism which had affected almost all the members of the SCO.

Being a member of the SCO is imperative for Pakistan not only from the perspective of regional connectivity and shared economic prosperity but also to counteract the threats to her security and dealing with US highhandedness in back-drop of the new policy on Afghanistan and South Asia announced by the Trump administration.

(About Writer)  : Muhammad Javed Siddique is an M.Phil Scholar in Political Science from the University of Karachi and a Freelance Columnist contributed articles in various dailies and magazines including, The Nation, The News International, Pakistan Observer, Defence Journal, The Diplomatic Insight magazine, JWT magazine and Balochistan Voices.

He  is attached  to Rabta Forum International.

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