The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a Eurasian security organisation, which was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Except for Uzbekistan, the other countries had been members of the Shanghai Five, founded in 1996; but after its inclusion in 2001, the members renamed the organisation. During its June 2002 summit, at Saint Petersburg, Russia, the heads of the organisation’s member states signed the SCO Charter, which expounded on its purposes, principles, structures and form of operation, and established it officially from the point of view of international law.
Its six full members account for 60 percent of the land mass of Eurasia and its population is a quarter of the world. With observer states included, its affiliates account for half of humanity. Currently, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan have been accorded “Observer” status, while Belarus, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been dialogue partners. India, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are aspirants of full membership of SCO. Both China and Russia have endorsed the full membership of India and Pakistan. In June 2010, the SCO approved the procedure of admitting new members, though they are yet to be admitted.
It seems that SCO as a regional body is likely to be a counter balance to Nato and its activities, which include cooperation on economic, cultural, security, military, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism. The US too was desirous of joining SCO as an “Observer”. But wary of its ambitions as the sole global power, its request was rejected.
The next summit is scheduled to be held on September 13, 2013, at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The Pakistani delegation is likely to be led by former Senator Sartaj Aziz, currently Advisor to the Prime Minister for National Security and Foreign Affairs.
Pakistan is desirous of attaining full membership expeditiously, but it is also cognisant of the fact that presently the permanent members of SCO want to maintain a low-key, rather than announce their intention of providing counterfoil to Nato. The membership application of Turkey, which is already an ally/member of Nato, and Iran raise questions and are subject to debate. Keeping this in view, Pakistan realises that offering full membership to one country and denying to others will create a dichotomy so it is willing to bide time till an opportune moment arrives.
Till then, it would be looking forward to be actively involved in the activities of SCO. During the Bonn Conference on December 5, 2011, the Chinese Foreign Minister in his address had indicated that regional bodies like SCO should have a role in the post 2014 Afghanistan, rather than Western nations. Islamabad endorses this opinion and being a stakeholder in Afghan peace, would welcome SCO’s participation in post 2014 Afghanistan.
Pakistan is conscious of Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski’s theory that “control of the Eurasian land mass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian land mass.” Since SCO has also apparently paid heed to the Brzezinski theory, Pakistan would seek to cast its lot with the organisation.
Pakistan’s aims of curbing extremism and enhancing border security also coincide with SCO’s charter of activities and since the state is suffering from both these problems, it would endeavour to gain from the experiences of SCO members to address the issue.
Trade and economic cooperation are also areas of interest for Pakistan, since Central Asia has a strong development and business potential based on “the availability of energy, natural resource and work force.” Joint Military Exercises have been held in the past between SCO members; Pakistan would be keen to participate in future counter-terrorism exercises as well as intelligence sharing cooperation.
Additionally, the forthcoming September summit would afford Sino-Pakistan delegations to hold in-depth talks on its sidelines. Central Asia and peace and stability in Afghanistan hold the key to the fruition of Sino-Pak agreements on the establishment of an economic corridor, development of Gwadar Port and TAPI. However, Balochistan will remain embroiled in conflict until there is tranquillity in Afghanistan.
Gwadar Port as well as the bulk of the economic corridor lies in strife-torn Balochistan, while TAPI would run through Afghanistan. So the port’s optimum utilisation will depend on Central Asia and Afghanistan making full use of it. Sino-Pak talks are likely to focus on the fast track execution of the economic corridor project as well as post 2014 Afghanistan, and bringing an end to the extremist attacks and their possible trickle effect on China’s Xingjian province.
For Pakistan, the writing on the wall is to seek regional cooperation, rather than look only towards the Occident.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence and Diplomacy on PTV.