ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not be attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Heads of the Government Summit in Tashkent next week and has nominated his advisor on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, to represent Pakistan.

Pakistan has been invited to the summit as an observer state, a status it acquired in the regional security grouping in 2005.

The two-day summit of the regional grouping is scheduled to open in Uzbek capital Tashkent on November 28.

According to the initial plan, the Prime Minister was to attend the summit and had confirmed his participation. His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders had also been planned on the sidelines of the summit, it is learnt.

However, in view of scathing criticism at home about the Prime Minister’s extended trips abroad at a time when the country is faced with grave security challenges, it has been decided at the highest-level to send Sartaj Aziz instead, sources told The Nation. Even in September Sartaj Aziz represented Pakistan at the SCO meeting of the Council of Heads of State in Kyrgyztan capital Bishkek.

The upcoming session of the Council of Heads of Government will focus on trade, economic matters and discuss issues of multilateral cooperation. The Council of Heads of Government is the second highest Council in SCO after the Council of Heads of State, which is the top decision-making body in the organisation and essentially focuses on strategic direction and security.  Besides Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India and Mongolia are currently observer members of the SCO. Belarus, Sri Lanka and Turkey are Dialogue Partners of the organisation.

Pakistan has been keen to obtain full membership status.

The SCO is an intergovernmental multi-functional regional organisation comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The mutual-security organisation founded in 2001 has observer status in the United Nations and established close business contacts with the ASEAN, the European Union, the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, and other international organisations.

The SCO is widely perceived as a counterbalance to the growing US influence in the region. Although the organisation’s primary focus has been combating international terrorism, religious fanaticism and ethnic separatism, drug trafficking, and arms smuggling, it also covers political, economic and cultural issues.