SCO membership: a new beginning

Pakistan was made a full permanent member of The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with India during the organization’s 16th summit held in Astana, Kazakhstan. It was indeed a “historic day” as the Prime Minister rightly put it. The full membership of the SCO not only advances Pakistan’s positive image internationally, but also be having tangible political, security and economic dividends. Pakistan has always talked about increased economic cooperation between the regional countries and beyond, Now that Pakistan has become a full member of the SCO, along with India, It has an opportunity to put his vision to the test and bring Pakistan among the connected hub of international trade and economic activity that its unique geographical position promises.

The SCO’s main aim is to increase connectivity and cooperation between Central Asia countries, a region Pakistan has long sought more access to and deeper ties with. The platform could help in the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, while its emphasis on counter terrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing over the last decade could be useful in the regional fight against militancy. Pakistan, then, has an opportunity to enhance security cooperation with a region where stability could unlock the enormous potential of trade and connectivity. Pakistan has the potential to become a gateway to the landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs) with historical and cultural links spanning over centuries. Anything disturbing in this region would undermine Pakistan’s future economic opportunities. Once the CPEC starts functioning, it will connect China, Pakistan, Central Asia, Caucasus and Russia.

The full-fledged membership of the SCO is a promising development for Pakistan not only in economic terms but it will also help the country in resolving its outstanding issues with neighbors, particularly India.  For that purpose, both countries must resist the impulse to turn multilateral forums into little more than arenas for venting bilateral concerns. Already, in Indian Prime minister’s hawkish speech in the summit, there is evidence that India may want to turn the SCO into another useless platform used for venting out anger on local issues. That may not be possible because of the presence of other powerful SCO countries, but Pakistan must resist the Indian bait of solely focusing on South Asian disputes. These issues should be discusses but priority should be given to keeping a channel of discussion open so that no miscommunication takes place.

The SCO membership can really prove to be fruitful not only for Pakistan but for the whole region of South and Central Asia but for that to happen, the new members will have to play a constructive role in the organization. They will have to realize that disputes can only be resolved by dialogue and through diplomatic channels, Non-state actors and angry ultra-nationalistic rhetoric only harms the process in long run. Economic cooperation and financial stake is the key to success in future and that future is within reach for the new as well as existing members of The Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

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Mian Bilal