Pakistan has come a long way in just one year. For 12 months after being formally admitted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), it is hosting to the bloc’s anti-terrorism moot. Not only that, India, which was afforded membership at the same time, is also in attendance.
This is good news on all counts. Though with regional security being on the agenda, it is disappointing that Kabul was not invited. After all, it has enjoyed observer status since 2012.
There are those who believe that Afghanistan’s absence will ultimately prove to be positive. For one thing, it has circumvented the never-ending blame game between Islamabad and Kabul over just who is safe-havening militants against the other’s national interest. Naturally, reclaiming state control over these areas is of the utmost importance. But regional allies are more than aware of the situation as well as the mutual recriminations.
Yet surely this is rather the point. The impasse shows no signs of being broken anytime soon. Thus a multilateral framework such as the eight-member SCO might just have represented a clean slate of sorts; not least because allies of both sides are participants. And then there is not the un-small matter of how most of the region’s instability stems from across Pakistan’s western border. This is not to point fingers unduly at Kabul. But the reality is that 17 years of American warfare in that country has severely shaped current threats. Not least in terms of the ripple effect of US interventions in the Middle East that have seen ISIS introduced to this part of the world. Indeed, the presence of the latter in Afghanistan has long been a Russian concern. Be that as it may, other risks to regional peace and security exist; including the unresolved issue of Kashmir and the ongoing violence in that disputed area.
Looking at the larger picture, that Pakistan has gone ahead and hosted an anti-terror summit is to be welcomed. After all, this country has long been a frontline ally in the GWOT; something that the current US administration appears to have conveniently forgotten. That this comes mere months after Washington managed to get regional allies such as Russia and China to ‘back’ Pakistan being grey-listed by global anti-money laundering watchdog FATF suggests a reset opportunity of sorts.
This is something that the political leadership must seize with both hands. It needs to convince both neighbouring countries as well as those further afield of a consistent commitment to counter-terrorism efforts at the multilateral level. Especially given that tumultuous year that the country has had, coupled with the fact that elections are just around the corner. Hopefully, hosting the SCO is a first step towards this end. *
Published in Daily Times, May 25th 2018.