by Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan for the Saker
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a regional alliance, it is the successor to the Shanghai Five, formed in 1996 between the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. On 15 June 2001, the leaders of these nations and Uzbekistan met in Shanghai to announce a new organization with deeper political and economic cooperation; the SCO Charter was signed on 7 July 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003. Its membership has since expanded to eight states, with India and Pakistan joining on 9 June 2017. Iran is the ninth country that joined SCO recently. Several countries are engaged as observers or dialogue partners and are expected to join in the near future.
The main objectives of the SCO are to (i) strengthen relations among member states; (ii) promote cooperation in political affairs, economics, and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection; (iv) safeguard regional peace, security, and stability; and (v) create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order. With assistance from the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, SCO members have developed an intergovernmental agreement on facilitating international road transport.
The Council of Heads of State, President or Prime Minister, is the top decision-making body in the SCO. This council meets at the SCO summits, which are held each year in one of the member states’ capital cities. Because of their government structure, the prime minister of the parliamentary democracies of India and Pakistan attends the SCO Council of Heads of State summits, as their responsibilities are similar to the presidents of other SCO nations.
The 2022 annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of State Council was held on September 15-16 in Samarkand. Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif led the Pakistan delegation to the Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of Shanghai Cooperation Organization and participated pro-actively.
Pakistan desires regional Connectivity and Afghanistan’s Stability, and economic and trade relations, which will lead to economic and trade integration among member countries.
The transit trade and commercial cooperation between the member states are imperative for the sustainability and economic recovery of the region that has been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan can play a significant role in providing trade and economic integration to the SCO member states, which will usher in a new era of economic connectivity in the region. In this context, the following may be highlighted:-
- Pakistan is an active member of the SCO and plays a vital role in connecting Central Asia, East Asia, China, Russia, and Afghanistan to the rest of the world through its newly developing seaport of Gwadar.
- Gwadar and CPEC are designed to cater to landlocked nations and regional countries to link with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
- Pakistan’s location is vital for international trade and can reshape and change the pattern of global trade in the years to come.
- Pakistan is a bridge between several landlocked nations to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe through its newly under-construction seaport – Gwadar.
- Gwadar is a natural deep sea port, and after its full development, it will be the largest seaport in the whole region and become the hub of commercial activities for the whole world.
- English language is commonly used in Pakistan and can play important role in transit trade in the region.
- Almost 70 percent of Pakistan’s population consists of youth under the age of 40, which is a hugely productive workforce and can play a vital role in development.
- Agriculture and rich mines & minerals are vital for economic activities.
Since its establishment, the SCO has attached great importance to proper handling of the Afghan issue as it believes that the long-term stability of the region is largely linked to the resolution of the Afghan crisis.
Regional stability depends largely on peace and stability in Afghanistan and that is why Pakistan is utilizing all regional and international forums to convince the international community to engage with the Taliban government.
Through SCO, all leaders should urge Taliban leadership to establish an inclusive government in order to turn Afghanistan into a constructive entity for regional peace, security, and development.
India’s agenda within SCO is suspicious. Its defiance against organizational goals will render SCO ineffective just like SAARC, a bitter experience that we have witnessed in the past. For instance, last year India asked for exemptions from consenting on joint declarations like action against the spread of terrorism, support against arms in outer space, and head of states statement against fascism during WW-2.
The SCO continues to be politicized by acts of India mainly because of New Delhi’s multi-alignment policy. India’s defense and strategic alliance with the US, membership of QUAD, and close ties with Japan and Australia raise questions about Indian sincerity with SCO where Russia and China are major countries.
All member states must ensure that western or regional (India) influences should not be used to exploit Afghanistan’s vulnerabilities.
SCO Summit 2022 should be projected as an opportunity for Pakistan and India to further the anti-terrorist program in the region through mutual partnerships in the (RATS- SCO).
Tech regulations and digitalization among member countries are also part of the SCO agenda this year. While Pakistan has been a victim of India’s global disinformation campaign, the SCO should serve to be a platform for mitigating such lethal/ hostile issues by addressing both sides neutrally.
As a matter of fact, all member states of SCO are a victim of the Western world’s coercion or sanctions. Russia is in direct confrontation with the US, and after the Ukraine issue, it has become more evident. China is also being cornered and contained by the US and its allies. Pakistan is also facing severe coercion from the US. Iran is also the target of US aggression and confrontations. All Central Asian states are being pressurized or marginalized by the US in either form.
In other words, all members of SCO are the victim of the US hegemony, except India. The only binding force among SCO nations is to counter American supremacy, coercion, and sanctions. Observer states and dialogue partners are also the victim of the Western world and are willing to join SCO as a refuge and protection from any aggression or pressure from the West.
It seems SCO will emerge a strong alliance to counter any illegal aggression, pressure, coercion, sanctions, external interference in their domestic issues, and invasion. It is a platform for promoting trade, interconnectivity, integration of culture, and harmony. SCO will succeed in providing regional security and development. It will guarantee the prosperity of all member states as well as the whole region.
It is an alliance of almost half of the world’s population, and one-third of the global GDP, and is rich with enormous natural resources. It possesses all potential to grow rapidly and eradicate poverty absolutely. The future of SCO is bright and we must keep on struggling to achieve its goals under the comprehensive charter of SCO.
Author: Prof. Engr. Zamir Ahmed Awan, Founding Chair GSRRA, Sinologist (ex-Diplomat), Editor, Analyst, Non-Resident Fellow of CCG (Center for China and Globalization). (E-mail: [email protected]).