On 9 June, 2017, Pakistan was granted membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Pakistan had been its observer since 2005. The organisation decided to grant Pakistan status of a full member its 2015 Summit held in Ufa Russia. SCO is a powerful Eurasian body.

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is the forerunner of the 1996 organisation Shahghi-5, comprising members China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It was renamed in 2001 after the inclusion of Uzbekistan. The primary objective of the organisation was to enhance trade among member countries by connectivity and regional cooperation, to protect political integrity of the member countries and promoted security, economic and trade cooperation between them and to promote regional connectivity. The organisation has expanded its domain from regional trade and included cooperation on counterterrorism.

The presence of two big regional economic powers i.e. China and Russia makes this organisation effective. The charter of this organisation clearly states the main goals and tasks of SCO are, “to strengthen mutual trust, friendship and good neighborliness between the member States; to consolidate multidisciplinary cooperation in the maintenance and strengthening of peace, security and stability in the region and promotion of a new democratic, fair and rational political and economic international order; to jointly counteract terrorism, separatism and extremism in all their manifestations.” China has already taken a big initiative in the form of the One Belt One Road project, through which it intends to connect regions of Asia, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia by building highways, railways and sea routes. Pakistan China Economic corridor is also one of the parts of this vision.

EU’s precursor the European Economic Community (EEC) was also formed as a trade union of various countries of Europe. With the passage of time, its domain was enhanced from trade to a kind of loose confederating system having its own parliament, currency, visa free policy and other incentives for its member countries. Though dented with UK’s decision to depart from the union, the EU is still a great influencing factor in the world affairs and has strong economic standing in the world economy.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization is also a window of opportunity for the countries of this region. Countries like Pakistan, India and Afghanistan can work together from the platform of this organisation. Pakistan and India have been granted status of full members during the recent Summit whereas Afghanistan is having status of an observer in the organisation. Central Asia is an oil and gas rich region. The road connectivity and regional trade can change the trade ratio in the region. Central Asian countries are landlocked, Pakistan would be an opportunity for them to access the Sea ports and use this route for trade. Stability in Afghanistan is also a key for the economic uplift of this region. Pakistan has always been ardent advocate of Afghanistan’s stability. Hopefully, this regional connectivity and having a shared decision of countering terrorism would help in bridging ties among countries of this region. On the sidelines of the Summit, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to restore quadrilateral talks. China and USA are also part of this Quadrilateral Coordination Group. There is urgent need to resume these talks and give peace a chance for bringing an end to the lingering conflict in Afghanistan.

This is an ideal and opportune time for the countries of South Asia. India should also realise that we need to have a way for a secure and prosperous future for coming generations. It should stop its tirades against Pakistan. It should also stop sowing hostility in the region.

Mr. Nawaz Sharif has rightly reiterated his commitment to peaceful coexistence in the summit. He clearly spelled out his vision in SCO Summit saying “As leaders, we should leave a legacy of peace and amity for our future generations, not a toxic harvest of conflict and animosity. Instead of talking about counterweights and contaminants, let us create shared spaces for all.” Undoubtedly, time is changing vey fast and, presently, economic tilt is in favour of Asia. Countries like Pakistan and India should take advantage of this.

The Astana Summit is historic for Pakistan and will have long term repercussions in the region. Prime Minister has rightly mentioned in his speech that “the SCO had been transformed into true transcontinental organisation. The SCO played the role of sheet anchor for regional progress and prosperity in view of the global changes.” As a torchbearer of peace in the region, Mr. Sharif congratulated first India for becoming full members of SCO but the hawkish remarks of Mr. Modi in his speech showed that the policy makers in India are not in a mood to normalise relations with Pakistan. Pakistan is pursuing its policy of peaceful coexistence and non interference. Sooner or later, Indian leaders would also realise that the panacea for all ills is in dialogue and having good neighborly relations in the region.

SCO is an economic bloc representing half of humanity as the total population of its member countries is half of the world population. The total GDP of the organisation accounts for one quarter of the world GDP. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a big opportunity and Pakistan has joined it at a right time. Pakistan is expanding its influence in the region and inviting other countries to join the march of development. We hope that at some time in future, countries of South Asia also realise the importance of regional connectivity and economic prosperity.