Shanghai not SAARC
Shanghai, not SAARC
The impact of Pak-India inclusion within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization
by: Waqas A. Khan
SAARC has failed badly. Shanghai, not SAARC is the new solution. There was a good reason to hope, in 1996, that China and Russia could work effectively with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan to reduce the militarization of the region after each signed a treaty to work together. A year later, the Shanghai Five pledged to work toward the reduction of military forces in border regions.
With the addition of Uzbekistan in 2001, The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s major achievement has been to successfully maintain regional stability and a terror-free environment in the wake of the September 11 attacks that were visited upon the United States. This is crucial as many nations not in the neighborhood were being torn asunder by militancy and extremism.
When the expulsion of the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies posed a major threat to Afghanistan’s neighbors, it was rightly feared that extremists would try to create safe havens and try to inspire sympathizers among the Muslims of Central Asia, China, Russia and other countries that border Afghanistan.
While the SCO’s bond indeed warded off the beast of extremism in their neighborhood, Pakistan fell prey to legions of militants out to spawn mayhem. More than 55,000 people have been killed in Pakistan, and our country’s economy has suffered to the tune of more than $100 billion since the invasion of Afghanistan, according to official data.
SCO-member countries opted last July to make Pakistan and India full-fledged members; both are expected to formally become part of the organization during a heads-of-state meeting slated for next month in Tashkent. This will be the first time Pakistan and India will be within the same security bloc. Even with such a rarified opportunity before them, this alignment could easily pose a significant threat– or even become a powderkeg — when it comes to the inner-workings of the SCO and its decision making based on consensus rather than majority rule.
These latest additions to the SCO come after both countries figuratively turned the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) into a comatose organization. Ideally, a successful regional bloc is supposed to be a trading bloc, but SAARC could not even take the initial steps toward the promotion of mutual trade. Since Day One, the organization has been victimized by the unchecked of the region’s twin nuclear states. Not only have each failed miserably when trying (or not trying) to settle their disputes, but they have effectively paralyzed the functioning body and other members.
It has been well established that in the absence of an elder, children will behave immaturely. The same applied to these two countries. India and Pakistan are decidedly grown-up with the second- and sixth-highest populations, respectively, on our planet, but their foreign and regional policies have been chillingly childish.
With their inclusion in the SCO, but in the presence of Father China and Mother Russia, it is widely expected that both will have learn how to “behave” before they will fully buy-into and promote an agenda of regional security and economic cooperation.
But how does their inclusion challenge or threaten existing member states?
As we are painfully aware, unstable relations between Pakistan and India can deteriorate in no time.
Even after what appears to have been very good diplomatic day, both sides have rained down bombs the very next day. on civilians and security forces along their international border and line of control.
Even though the SCO is a security organization with intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism programs for the member states, such long-standing hostile relations between these two newcomers, means there will be a better-than-average chance that long-standing tensions will hinder its inner workings.
But aren’t there dividends that both countries can provide?
With the majority of SCO countries neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan can play a vital role in Afghan security affairs. India’s burgeoning role in Afghanistan’s economy means it can influence and even help stabilize the war-torn country.
With China showing a deeper concern about Afghanistan, it recently sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government in Murree. The powerhouse nation also is keeping a close eye on affairs of state that are giving rise to ISIS, which could threaten China’s westernmost province, Xinjiang, a hotbed of militancy.
Pakistan stands to benefit greatly from its inclusion in SCO. Last year it signed landmark agreements worth $46 billion with China, To secure investment for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a network of roads, railways, and pipelines that will connect the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s southern province of Baluchistan to Kashgar in Xinjiang. The CPEC project has been enthusiastically endorsed by SCO states. This has cemented Pakistan’s role as a vital regional hub for the economic development of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
No longer are Pakistan and Russia hostile toward one another. Even though Pakistan has been a faithful ally of the United States in those nations’ Cold War, II, the U.S. inexplicably has begun tilting its favors toward India, especially when it comes to disproportionate and unfair sanctions repeatedly being placed upon our country. The most-recent example came about after far-right fanatics within the U.S. Congress blocked a $430 million subsidy for the sale of eight F-16 aircraft that Pakistan had agreed to purchase for $230 million. This back-tracking, curiously, came after India expressed dissatisfaction with the original deal.
In 2014, Pakistan signed a defense agreement with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s regime and Pakistan’s government announced coordinated tactics to counter terrorism, illicit narcotics and arms trafficking. Given the slight emanating from the U.S. and its Congress, it would seem that Russia may be more than willing to guarantee Pakistan a very comfortable seat at the SCO table.
At the same time, India, is drawing (or being drawn) suspiciously closer to the U.S. as its relations with China and Russia have deteriorated. During on a recent visit to Beijing, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi deemed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as “unacceptable.” He claims it intrudes upon parts of Kashmir, the disputed territory that is under Pakistani control. India further angered China by voicing opposition to aspects of China’s Silk Road project. The country also has protested Russia’s decision to lift an arms embargo against Pakistan on grounds that it compromised India’s regional security interests.
Still, China and Russia will not ostracize or isolate India, as clearly evidenced by China lobbying for India’s inclusion in the SCO even though Pakistan was not the least bit happy.
India’s leaders, too, understand that membership in the SCO offers a crucial opportunity to forge closer bonds with the resource and energy-rich republics of Central Asia.
Thanks to the forthcoming opportunity provided by the SCO, Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi met in good faith on the side-lines of the organization’s summit in Ufa.
The prime ministers agreed to five logical steps, including:
- A meeting in New Delhi to discuss all issues related to terrorism.
- Sessions between the Director-General (DG) of the Border Security Force (BSF) and the DG of the Pakistan Rangers and efforts to minimize line-of-control-related tensions.
- The release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within 15 days.
- A mechanism for facilitating religious tourism.
- And, expediting the Mumbai case, including the release of additional information such as voice samples.
But the goodwill achieved in Ufa, proved short-lived as extremists in both countries chose to bulldoze the newly launched peace initiative. Even after Modi’s brief visit to Pakistan, the process has ground to a halt.
But do not despair: It’s Shanghai, not SAARC.
The SCO initially is going to bring Pakistan and India closer to one another, at last in a controlled environment. And any organization with such a capacity — and powerhouse blocs at its helm — will be able to do what SAARC only dreamed of attempting.
With hopes high, let’s hope India and Pakistan provide reasons for all citizens of both countries to hold their heads high as well.
The article was published in Pakistan Today