As autumn is setting across the world, a new spring has been observed during the recent meeting of the second most influential tier of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) ie Heads of the Governments Council of the member countries held recently in the beautiful city of Dushanbe.
This meeting was scheduled after Heads of the State meeting of the SCO members held in Qingdao, in People’s Republic of China during the mid summer this year. The agenda for the meeting was trade and economic cooperation, developing solutions to the emerging challenges as well as humanitarian cooperation and cultural promotion. Chinese PM Li Keqiang, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Kazakh PM Bakitjan Sagintayev, Kyrgyz PM Muhammetkali Abilgaziyev, Uzbek PM Abdulla Aripov, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Belarusian PM Syarhey Rumas, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Olimov, Director of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure Yevgen Sysoyev as well representatives of Iran and Mongolia and others arrived in Tajikistan to attend the 17th meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of Government. Moreover, the joint communiqué issue at the end of the Summit highlighted the desire for collective peace and cooperation while addressing the concerns of the new emerging circumstances of the global economy and regional threats of terrorism and instability.
Established in 2001, Shanghai Cooperation Organiaation (SCO) has eight full member states, Russian, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan while Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia are observer states. Another category of states are ‘dialogue partners’ and this includes Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia while ASEAN, CIS and Turkmenistan are the guest attendees. Having 20 percent of the world’s GDP, 75 percent of the world’s energy resources and covering 42 percent of the world population with four declared nuclear powers, SCO is growing its influence in the world. Apart from having a primary focus on security, the SCO has exceptional potential for deeper economic opportunities between member states. With coming of age, SCO is shaping and changing its dynamics from being a security and policy coordination organization growing into the largest economic hub. Especially, after the advent of the Belt and Road Initiative led by China, the significance of SCO has increased. It’s worth has also multiplied after the confirmation of Pakistan and India as permanent member states in one of the largest grouping of Asian countries. The economies of the SCO region have significant influence in the global economic world order. There is a strong urge for strong regional integration amongst member countries.
Foreign Minister Qureshi met Tajik President, and exchanged views on regional and international issues. While with the Tajik officials, they discussed CASA 1000 project which would transit 1000 MW hydroelectricity to Pakistan meeting its energy needs. TAPI is another potential project, due to be completed in 2020
During the discussion related to the SCO Interbank Consortium, one positive development for Pakistan is that the accession of Habib Bank Ltd will be part of the consortium for smooth transactions and economic activity. There are a growing number of Banks and financial institutions that are willing to be part of the consortium as well.
Agriculture is one common factor where the SCO countries need to support each other. Every country of the SCO is rich in agriculture based resources. There is a need to identify the areas for joint scientific research, development and implementation of joint projects. This will also reduce the level of hunger and poverty in the region. Another area that was also highlighted in the meeting, is the education sector including collaboration with higher education institutions among member states. The Heads of Governments also stressed the need to implement the SCO Development Strategy till 2025, to expand and deepen the cooperation in the fields of politics, security and trade, promoting relations amongst the states based on the vision of creating a community for the common destiny of mankind. There was a strong desire from all sides to develop a mechanism for free movement of goods, capitals, services and technology. One other significant sectors that was highlighted was the energy projects and the members eagerness to amplify collaboration for them.
By deeply analysing the development in the recent meetings, the positivity shown by Pakistan towards regional security issues, regional connectivity and regional trade has been the practice of superpowers. Pakistan has been accused of being a national security state with a dominant military role but the liberal philosophy of regional connectivity presented by Pakistan at SCO meeting suggests otherwise. The proposal of SCO wide visa regime and joint SCO airline is a vision offering even more than BRI that reminds one of the formation of the European Union. The major interest of Pakistan in SCO is to find export markets as well as energy import markets to roll the wheels of its stagnant economy.
To achieve this end, Pakistan is ready to offer transit routes to SCO members, counter terrorism expertise, tourism and cultural exchange programs. Foreign Minister Qureshi met Tajik President, and exchanged views on regional and international issues. While with the Tajik officials, they discussed CASA 1000 project which would transit 1000 MW hydroelectricity to Pakistan meeting its energy needs. TAPI is another potential project, due to be completed in 2020. Between Pakistan and Central Asia, lies the war torn Afghanistan which hinders regional connectivity and peace. But, Pakistan is fully committed to facilitate the political settlement of the Afghan issue, which will be a collectively beneficial settlement for the region.
To complement the proposals of Pakistan, joint communiqué admitted the role of SCO business councils and inter-bank consortium to find new avenues of business, trade and raising financial cooperation and mutual investments. This candid thought highlights the potential of SCO as an organization. SCO believes in mutual cooperation through which it tends to facilitate other regional states and to share mutual development. It is likely to strengthen and be at the level where it will have the potential to resolve regional issues in the region, and not in the United Nations. This would not put SCO on parity with the United Nations as it fully endorses the charter of the United Nations but Asia will have another platform to resolve its issues.
If the said areas and policies are fully implemented, Pakistan will be a major beneficiary of the development. The need of the hour for Pakistan is to synchronize its foreign policy with economic policy by meeting the national security parameters.
The writer is the President of Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and Pakistan-Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Friendship Forum
Published in Daily Times, October 24th 2018.