SCO expansion: Prospects for Pakistan

By Saima Ali

Pakistan moved nearer last month to join a regional, security and economic coalition led by China and Russia, a move seen to enhance the importance of the organization. Pakistan has become full member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) after signing Memorandum of Obligations (MoOs) in SCO’s Heads of State Summit at Tashkent. Pakistan has been an observer at SCO since 2005. It has been a regular contributor in the meetings of SCO and was the first SCO observer to apply for full membership in 2010. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was created in June 2001, comprising China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The recent approval of granting permanent membership has raised many hopes about the future of cooperation and tenacity of many persisting disputes and the critical issues which have been a bone of contention in the South Asian region.

Present era is era of connectivity, so we can rightly interpret that SCO expansion is timely and Pakistan will be looking to play an important role in the region. Pakistan’s insertion in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) would be advantageous for the whole region. Pakistan’s geostrategic location allows it to become a source for regional economic incorporation among the SCO member states. The expansion would enable the organization to prevent extra-regional pressures. With Pakistan’s eternal membership and enormous experience in the context, new measures and joint projects can also be taken for countering violent radicalism in the region.

Pakistan had attained excellent success in the internationally highly praised operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ and could share precious knowledge with the SCO member states. Pakistan’s role and experience as a frontline state in combating terrorism and extremism, which can be an asset to the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) and the Regional Counter Terrorism Structure (RCTS). With the addition of Pakistan, the collective efforts by member states to counter terrorism and violent extremism will attain an important ally, as we have been effectively countering this menace for over a decade now. The internationally lauded Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has reclaimed our national space from terrorists, is a prime example of the successes achieved by Pakistan in this context.

Pakistan permanent membership will help SCO embrace the world and will act like a bridge. From last four decades, Pakistan has suffered the War on terrorism and SCO can play a significant role in erasing the misperceptions about our country surrounding whole the world.  It has become obvious particularly in the outcome of the War on Terror, that this part of the globe once again finds itself left to consider with the consequences of an imposed conflict, and to assemble the  pieces of societies and structures that have been crushed by  decades of conflict.

Economically, Pakistan will be the best medium between SCO countries and the South Asian region, providing the shortest possible trade routes between Central Asia and Iran on the one hand, and the Russian, Chinese and Indian markets on the other. And it will enhance trade itself by tying the region together with new energy corridors. No doubt that Pakistan’s inclusion will inculcate new might into the organization. The country’s entry will open doors of opportunity for all SCO member states. It will boost the organization’s appeal and influence within the international arena, and strengthen its future development, setting it on the path to become a leading regional cooperation organization.

Particularly after Pakistan and India’s membership, if the SCO successfully managed its significant role in bridging relationship of the two nuclear rival neighbors then it would definitely be a sign of turning point to jot down a new history which will of course, encourage and attract many other states to come under the SCO umbrella. Apart from the issue of SCO’s role in the region’s economic development and members’ security issues, a particular emphasize is required for the result oriented efforts to resolve core issues like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek etc on priority basis. Otherwise even after granting permanent membership to Pakistan and India, the outcome would be no more than a further divide in the Organization particularly by crafting the conception of organization within the organization where two sides would be supported by their respective supporting states.

For that matter, we all need to work for the betterment of the country and be proud of what we have achieved by being part of the SCO Forum. We must take the first collective step towards diminishing the distances and misunderstandings between us, and work towards the betterment and prosperity of entire region. It was a long wait but is worth it. Thus the much-awaited expansion of SCO would provide great opportunities to Pakistan keeping in view its geo-political, geo-strategic and geo-economic features and engagements.

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Saima Ali

Saima Ali is a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

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