China’s Role in Indo-Pak Membership of SCO By Muhammad Asif Noor

The forthcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is scheduled to be held in Qingdao, a province of China, in June. The regional body, despite challenges due to anti-regional forces, is aiming to reach the desired goals. In such situation, the admission of Pakistan and India in the SCO as permanent members has doubled these critical challenges.
This expanded new version of the SCO demands a dynamic strategy to keep Pakistan and India away from their bilateral issues because the history of South Asia has witnessed that bilateral disputes always remain dominant over collective regional problems. SAARC is one such example. There is a common assumption that Pak-India rivalry may negatively influence the SCO and affect the organisation’s collective strategy to fight against regional evils.
In the prevailing circumstances, keeping these two arch-rivals away from their bilateral disputes and engaging them to put their efforts for collective cause would be a tough task for Beijing and other member states, which have been struggling to eliminate anti-regional elements — human and drugs trafficking, terrorism, extremism and cybercrime.
Along with this challenge, China, being at the centre of the organisation, has to confront the following challenges of critical importance to maintain regional stability and security.
First, the SCO should assume its responsibility to maintain regional stability and security, as with the addition of Pakistan and India, the boundary of this responsibility has been extended to entire Asia. As in the past, at present and for the foreseeable future, regional stability and security are one of the biggest challenges that the region has been confronting. However, the new addition has increased the intensity of these challenges. Under such circumstances, Beijing has to respond to the entire region’s concerns by assuming its responsibility to deal with the regional crisis. If China succeeds to implement the SCO agenda in true letter and spirit, it would be a great achievement on the credit of Beijing leadership. Otherwise, the SCO’s growing popularity would be affected.
The expanded version of the SCO demands a dynamic strategy to keep Pakistan and India away from their bilateral issues because the history of South Asia has witnessed bilateral disputes dominating over collective regional problems
Second, Beijing needs to play a balanced and objective role in the tense Pakistan-India relations while not denying the political principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of the member states because it is critical to maintaining peace, stability and security in the region. For this purpose, China should follow the policy of constructive engagement between Pakistan and India and that will not only pave the way for the settlement of the dispute between them but will develop economic ties, which are in the greater interest of the entire region.
Third, Beijing should play a more constructive role in political stability and economic development of Afghanistan. Beijing’s massive investment in the infrastructure development of the war-torn country would be a potential factor in initiating work for Afghanistan’s proximity to SCO member states in terms of both geography and security. However, with the rise in security attacks on Afghan and NATO forces personnel and growing influence of Taliban and other anti-state elements in Afghanistan, China may face a more complicated situation in Afghanistan with uncertain prospects.
The SCO member states, especially Pakistan, would most seriously be affected if the situation in Afghanistan takes an unexpected turn. Serious effects on Pakistan would not be in the interest of the SCO. It is obvious that the organisation cannot solve all of Afghanistan’s problems. With the inclusion of Kabul in the economic and humanitarian spheres, Beijing would have to decide on how to realise its potential more effectively.
Fourth, citing poverty and inflation, the SCO chairman will need to make a breakthrough in economic areas by developing a dynamic economic strategy involving all member states, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India. History shows that the SCO achieved great success in the area of security by adopting a common approach to combating terrorism, separatism, and extremism, the major evils gravely harming the South Asian states. However, economic ties within the SCO member states lag behind, and no satisfactory results could be drawn so far. China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project would be a potential opportunity for states in the Asia Pacific to benefit from and subsequently, for China’s new vision of economic development and linking the region with the international market.
Fifth, the SCO would have to develop a comprehensive strategy to handle the issue the body may face with expansion. Whether or not the SCO should expand is an important question and Beijing would have to seek its answer. Russia is a keen advocator of expansion and supported Pakistan and India to become members of the SCO while China is treating this with caution, worrying that expansion may lead to a reduction in the organisation’s efficiency.
Moscow and Beijing, along with the other member states, can continue the discussion on the issue but it’s more important that the SCO should not let this issue negatively affect in the internal solidarity among the member states, particularly between Russia and China. It is also important for the regional forum to predict all the possible effects the expansion can bring about and prevent the undesirable outcomes from the happening. At the same time, Beijing should make the best use of the possibilities that the expansion can provide in the future.
The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and Secretary General, Pakistan-SCO Friendship Forum.
Published in Daily Times, May 13th 2018.

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