June 9, 2017 will be marked as a red letter day for both Pakistan and India as they assumed the mantle of full membership of the powerful Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Kazakhstan's capital Astana. This is the first time that the SCO has expanded its tight knit organization, a decade and half after its launch. Originally the Shanghai Five comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan was founded in 1996; with the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, the group was renamed as SCO.
The advent of SCO to promote good neighbourliness and friendly cooperation has been perceived with misgivings by the Occident. Renowned US political scientist Thomas Ambrosio opined that the SCO was created to promote authoritarian norms in Central Asia. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, extending Geopolitical Analyst John Mackinder's "Heartland Theory", construed that "control of the Eurasian land mass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian land mass." It has been propagated that Russia, with China's support is rekindling its ambition of Eurasian control leading to global supremacy.
The fact is that SCO member states, representing half of humanity, contrarily have established relations with the UN, the EU, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the OIC for enhancing the quality of life of its members.
The eight-member group which now includes Pakistan and India as members and Iran and Afghanistan as observers makes SCO an organization with a significant segment of proven oil and gas reserves and also hosts four of the world's nuclear powers under one roof
In this milieu, let us examine what strengths Pakistan brings to this august institution and what advantages would accrue to it after joining SCO. The focal point of SCO is its member nations' security-related concerns, focusing on terrorism, extremism and separatism.
Pakistan, as a frontline state in combating terrorism, has gained valuable understanding of the scourge of the three challenges and it would be privileged to share that experience with the SCO states, some of whom have also faced the bane of all three evils. Pakistan military has established state-of-the-art anti terrorism schools, where training is imparted to combat terrorism in realistic scenarios. SCO member states can be invited to hold joint anti terror exercises with Pakistan, bringing in their own perspective and experience in mutually combating the blight of terrorism.
Past SCO summits indicate that its activities in the area of social development of its member states have gained traction. The new Silk World Order envisaged by China and ably supported by Russia, which also incorporates Chinese President Xi Jinping's One Belt One Road (OBOR) Project, goes beyond Eurasia, which includes everything from a transcontinental mega railroad network connecting the Iberian Peninsula to the South China Sea and a vast array of terrestrial and maritime infrastructure linking China, the rest of Asia, Europe and East Africa.
China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an essential component of OBOR, which is proceeding with full vigour. Pakistan, located strategically, being at the confluence of nearly three continents and three important maritime passages, holds the key to providing additional connectivity to China and maritime access to the Central Asian states. Under the SCO framework, Pakistan will have the confidence and support of other members besides China to complete the CPEC successfully and expeditiously make it a win-win situation for all and help achieve the fruition of the dreams of economic development of the underdeveloped countries in the region who will be benefitting from the mega project.
The eight-member group which now includes Pakistan and India as members and Iran and Afghanistan as observers makes SCO an organization with a significant segment of proven oil and gas reserves and also hosts four of the world's nuclear powers under one roof.
Energy starved Pakistan will have greater access to access to Kazakhstan's oil, Uzbekistan's uranium and Turkmenistan's natural gas and will also have the opportunity to see the fruition of its projects like TAPI and CASA 1000.
The group will afford Pakistan greater opportunities for trade and commerce links with the SCO. The landlocked members of the organization can benefit from the port facilities of Pakistan.
A caveat here is the Indo-Pak rivalry, which could mar the progress of SCO. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it will respect the mandates and parameters of SCO and will not pursue it seek solutions to its disputes with India. Similarly India is expected to express deference to the esteemed organization. Unfortunately, on the one hand it considers the Kashmir issue bilateral but spares no opportunity in utilizing multilateral platforms to castigate Pakistan and presenting it in a bad light. Perhaps Pakistan will be able to use the platform to iron out creases with India and with its strategic partnership with China; will lend credence to the organization and hopefully be part of the group which will be the harbingers of peace and prosperity in the entire region including Afghanistan. Pakistan's entry into SCO is not figurative but substantial.
Note: Portions of this article appeared in the author's earlier Op-Ed 'Pakistan's entry in SCO' published in Daily Times July 14, 2015
The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China