One year on from both Pakistan and India being admitted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and things are looking up. Admittedly, India did not sign off on China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative. But that was always on the cards given New Delhi’s constant assertion that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through “disputed” territory.
That this did not prevent Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi from exchanging pleasantries is to be welcomed.Though there may have been a moment bated breath when the latter — discussing the positive reception to New Delhi’s capacity-building efforts in Afghanistan — lumped together this country and the Taliban. Upsidaisy.
The thawing of Sino-Indian ties is where Pakistan needs to keep its head particularly cool. For there is no reason to suggest that this will negatively impact Islamabad and its regional position. Indeed, the Foreign Office noted that both Beijing and Moscow are willing to do what they can to ease the Indo-Pak bilateral relationship.Yet talk of an unofficial bloc within the SCO context comprising Pakistan, China and Russia may not be too helpful. Thus the incoming set-up must make it clear that this ‘nexus’ is simply aimed at smoothing out any bumps in the road for the greater good at the bilateral level; say, in terms of ties with Kabul or Washington. If this is not addressed, New Delhi may well misunderstand this as a sign of Islamabad’s insecurity. And both sides have surely had enough of choreographed masochism.
That being said, the priority for the next government has to be security at home. After all, Chinese workers have been victims of targeted attacks; prompting Beijing to warn its nationals of the ongoing threat. And then there is the critical issue of the BRICS statement last year that saw China join others in singling out certain Pakistan-based militants for special censure over their role in cross-border attacks. Similarly, Chinese personnel and labour force should abide by on-the-ground security measures implemented by the Pakistani authorities for their protection. Neither side needs a repeat of the incident that went viral back in April.
And lastly, it is a matter of urgency that all efforts are made to strengthen the SCO as viable multilateral forum. Not least because this grouping excludes global powers, such as the US.The latter has long entrenched itself in this region and, as the world’s lone superpower, it is used to having its own way. Yet those who live here in this at times hostile neighbourhood naturally have a far clearer and more nuanced understanding of prevailing dynamics. And the SCO provides a necessary platform for honest dialogue.
Pakistan and India had promised to keep their bilateral bickering off the table. Thus far, both sides have kept their word. This cannot be underestimated. And if sincerely built upon, it will do a great service to the citizenries across both sides of the border. Not to mention those of the broader region.
Needless to say SCO is a vital platform and spells a new future for the region. *
Published in Daily Times, June 12th 2018.