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Shangai Cooperation Organisation and strategic balances
  • Shangai Cooperation Organisation: members and observers
    Shangai Cooperation Organisation: members and observers
Pakistan and India became full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in June 2017. The joining of SCO by the arch enemies will change the complexion of SCO in terms of balance of power-both being nuclear nations, as opposed to previous two other nuclear powers as members before. Pakistan’s inclusion was backed by China whereas that of India by Russia.

The Charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that came in effect in 9 September 2003 outlines the core objectives, structure and goals of the organisation. Main targets of SCO is promotion of good relations between all member nations, cooperating on different levels including energy, technology, education, culture, environment protection, trade, tourism, economy, a secure and stable region pooling efforts of all members of the organisation moving towards a more balanced world order based on principles of justice. In 2006 it declared the goal of fighting the drug mafia, funds from where are disbursed to fan global terrorism. In 2008 SOC declared pitching in to return Afghanistan to return to a normal liveable country. The main thrust of SCO objectives has been to address economic and security issues. This will be a first for India and Pakistan to be members of a group seeking military and security cooperation.

SCO was poised as a counterpart to NATO- a promise it has yet to fulfil. The inclusion of both Pakistan and India with their ‘Big Brothers’ in the group and how it works towards the SCO goals will be interesting to watch.

So far, India under Modi has spread its number of allies and her camps. Will India be able to strategically balance itself in SCO Vis a Vis Pakistan and China? In his address at the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana with both Chinese President Xi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif present, “Modi urged cooperation against terrorism and an agenda of economic connectivity, but with some pointed caveats. “For connectivity initiatives and for success and approval of the projects,” Modi said, “sovereignty and regional integrity must be respected.” Those comments were widely understood as a rebuke of China, given Modi’s recent decision to boycott the One Belt, One Road summit over objections to China’s Pakistani projects.” (The American Interest)

Whereas, at the summit, India held meetings on the side-lines with many heads of state, none was scheduled between Modi and Nawaz Sharif. “On Modi and Sharif’s meeting, he said, “External Affairs Minister (Sushma Swaraj) has already said that there was neither any request from their side nor any such proposal from our side. There is no change in the status on this.” (News 18, June 8, 2017)

It is indeed interesting that the first day of SCO Summit was also the first day of the hearing in the International Court of Justice where both India and Pakistan are in conflict over the death sentence awarded by Pakistan to India’s Kulbhushan Yadev, living in Pakistan on fake identity and confessing to spying for India.

On the flip side, SCO platform does offer both the rivals a window to work together. However, India’s ambition of rising as a regional power as opposed to China and her using of Afghanistan territory s strategic depth against Pakistan can be a huge hurdle in building a positive relationship. Owing to this reason, Pakistan must guard her own backyard by different means.

India’s interests in Afghanistan have been two-pronged. She has feared Pakistan’s use of Afghanistan as strategic depth against her and wants very desperately to be seen as the main power of the regional beating China to the game. Though India views Pakistan as her arch rival, as does Pakistan, her interest in Afghanistan is rooted in her desire to be able to strategically influence a neighbouring country effectively. India fears a complete withdrawal of American forces resulting in an Afghanistan under Taliban control. The more her involvement increases in Afghanistan, the greater her ability to minimise the role of Pakistan. Chinese interests in CPEC are high-as nearly 85% of her oil imports pass through the Strait of Malacca. There is a broad based belief in Pakistan that India, fearful of CPEC rise giving a definite edge to China, is trying to meddle in Pakistan’s internal politics as well as employ proxies create a security hazard scenario.

For India, becoming a full member of SCO can be seen as a preliminary step to Central Asia. It makes imminent sense for India to use this platform to bring on board both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to fast forward project Chabahar.

For Pakistan, this membership must be intelligently capitalised upon by developing close knit ties with member states, developing their trust in Pakistan and her future for business and investment purposes. Most of these Central Asian states are land locked, inclusion of Pakistan as SCO member offers a forum to offer them an opportunity to access via Gawadar and by road.

Pakistan can learn from Kyrgyzstan, in studying how the latter has overcome her energy problems, as Kyrgyzstan, has come a long way in upgrading and developing hydroelectric power sources. Kyrgyzstan is also rich in gas reserves.

However, Pakistan must have a well-crafted strategy to utilise this well-timed opening. Blundering along from one summit to another is a waste of this window.
Yasmeen Aftab Ali