-Dr. Abdul Ruff
The 2017 annual Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will be held on 7-8 June, in Astana, Kazakhstan. Beijing-headquartered SCO, which focuses mostly on security-related issues such as counter-terrorism cooperation in Central Asia, is comprised of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members. Afghanistan, Belarus, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan have “observer” status. Its 2015 summit in Ufa in Russia had formally adopted a resolution which started the procedures to admit India and Pakistan into the security grouping.
Pakistan is set to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in its upcoming session in Astana, Kazakhstan which starts June 8. In a statement released to the media, the Foreign Office (FO) has stated that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will participate in the 17th meeting of the Heads of State Council (HoSC) of the SCO on June 8-9 in Kazakhstan. While there, the PM will hold bilateral meetings with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit. PM Sharif will also attend the inauguration ceremony of the International Expo 2017, which will host 100 participating countries, including Pakistan.
India as South Asia’s largest economy is also set to be included in the SCO in the upcoming Summit in Astana. In becoming full members of the SCO, Pakistan and India will join the ranks of current members Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Pakistan, which has been an observer at the SCO since 2005, applied for a permanent membership in 2010. According to the FO spokesperson, “The decision, in principle, to give membership to Pakistan was taken by the SCO Heads of States at a meeting held in Ufa, Russia, in 2015”. In the press release, the FO stated that Pakistan had been actively participating in the organization’s activities as an observer and that it fully subscribes to the “Shanghai Spirit.”
The statement further added that Pakistan shares “historical and cultural links, as well as strong economic and strategic complementarities” with members of the SCO. It stated that the SCO would help Pakistan advance its interests regional peace, stability and development and its support for regional cooperation against terrorism and extremism.
The annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which took place in Tashkent on Jun 30, 2016, celebrated the 15-year history of this organization. The six SCO member states – Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – evaluated the successes that this organization has achieved in the past decade and a half, and determined the future format of its work.
The summit in 2017 will have more two participants, for a total of eight, after India and Pakistan officially join the organization. In Tashkent, these two countries signed a memorandum of commitment to the SCO – the last documents before becoming full-fledged members. At the summit, he warned the countries from engaging in confrontations with each other and encouraged maintaining the non-aligned status of the organization. The talks were complicated, but in the end, SCO managed to overcome all difficulties and agreed on granting membership to the new countries. However, the compromise does not mean that the existing contradictions between New Delhi and Islamabad would not be transferred to the SCO platform.
Central Asian countries, which had declared their region a nuclear-free zone, will have a difficult time balancing inside such a composition. It is clear that the expansion of the SCO will now move regional problems into the background. The majority of SCO member states (with the exceptions of China and Uzbekistan) are also part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), where collective efforts are being undertaken to try and solve regional security problems. Russia is seeking to win over Central Asian members to its side, just as China is seeking to do.
Now enjoying such status in the SCO are Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia. The greatest chances of joining are given to Iran, whose interests in the organization are actively being promoted by Russia. Tashkent was especially cautious when it came to the idea of membership for Afghanistan, a country where the main security threats and risks in Central Asia originate.
Two years after the summit in Ufa, the Central Asian countries that had previously doubted the wisdom of expanding the SCO with two other South Asian countries that are in constant conflict with each other, seemed to have come around to the idea. The president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, who criticized the expansion of the SCO with two unofficial nuclear powers, seemed more restrained this year.
For the first 15 years, the SCO has primarily focused on economic and security issues. Going forward, the work of the SCO will continue in an expanded format. India and Pakistan will become full members of the SCO now, a move that was finally decided at the Tashkent Summit. In the summit’s final declaration, dedicated to the 15th anniversary of the organization, the participating countries agreed to assist each other during economic crises and to continue in their joint efforts in fighting extremism.
Economic development issues were also paramount on the agenda of the Astana Summit. SCO leaders have complained that very often, uneven economic development is leading to the slow implementation of joint projects, particularly in trade and construction of transport infrastructure spheres. In connection with this, the countries have pledged to help each other in times of economic crisis. To accelerate the development of regional transportation infrastructure, Putin suggested that SCO countries that are not members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) join the Russian-Chinese cooperation projects involving the EAEU and the Silk Road Economic Belt. “Connecting all SCO member states, as well as CIS countries, to these integration processes, would be a prelude to the formation of a broad Eurasian Partnership,” said Putin. However, the experts do not think much of the potential for economic cooperation within the SCO framework. Uzbekistan stated that Tashkent has always looked at the SCO platform as a means for establishing bilateral cooperation on security issues, rather than economic ones.
At the SCO summit in Tashkent, they also signed an Action Plan for the implementation of Development Strategies for the SCO until 2025, where participating countries have identified their directions of development in the coming years. These followed the outlines of the development strategy for the SCO that the participating countries adopted at last summit in Ufa.
China hoped the admission of India and Pakistan into the Beijing-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) security grouping would contribute to security and stability in the region. “Both India and Pakistan are China’s important neighbors and important countries in South Asia. China hopes that India and Pakistan can enhance mutual trust and improve relations through more dialogues. This is conducive to not only the two countries themselves but also to regional prosperity and development.”
With nuclear India and Pakistan’s membership, the SCO will include countries encompassing over 40% of the world’s population. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will continue dealing mainly with security and economic issues, although there are doubts about how effective it will be once India and Pakistan join in 2017.