This originally appeared in The Nation on 12 June 2017.
Pakistan has been admitted into Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a Full Member at the SCO Astana Summit in Kazakhstan. SCO leaders have hailed the event as carrying ‘historic significance’.
So, what does SCO membership mean for Pakistan? How significant it truly is? And will Pakistan be able to benefit from SCO membership?
First, the upside.
SCO membership is significant for four reasons:
One, relationship with China is strengthened. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is already included in China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a flagship project. Now, we are accepted in the Shanghai club which is China-led.
Two, the membership upgrade from Observer to Full Member is a message to the world that attempts to isolate Pakistan diplomatically will not bear fruit. And that Pakistan is siding with the right powers at this critical juncture and is on the right side of history. If we combine the SCO membership with Pakistan’s inclusion in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index a week ago on 1 June, this is also an economic success and that we are getting back on economic track.
Three, it is an opportunity for Pakistan to increase trade volumes and economic ties with Eurasian countries which didn’t quite show up on Pakistan’s radar earlier.
Four, it allows Pakistan to sort out bilateral issues with neighbouring India, which also became the Full Member in Astana Summit, under Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, which is second most important document after SCO Charter.
For China, this had been the most desirable outcome and China had conveyed this even before the Summit. Speaking at a briefing in Beijing on 1 June, spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hua Chunying had said China hoped Pakistan and India would improve bilateral relations after becoming the full members of SCO. ‘We hope that Pakistan and India will inject new impetus to the development of SCO.’
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Now, the downside.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could not have one-on-one meeting with his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi in spite of increasing tensions between the two countries. The exchange remained limited to a customary hi.
Only a day after the membership upgrade, tensions mounted on the Line of Control (LoC) with India and Pakistan army chief visited troops after the reported LoC violations.
This is clearly a message that new economic possibilities and realities will not be able to heal old wounds so quickly. Perhaps this is what Chinese President Xi Jinping had referred to in his opening address: ‘Recent acts of terrorism in this region show that the fight against three forces (of terrorism, separatism and extremism) remains a long and arduous task.’
Similarly, the kidnapping and reported killing of two Chinese teachers from Quetta caused PM Sharif embarrassment in facing the Chinese President Xi Jinping during the customary farewell meeting.
So, to the question ‘Will Pakistan be able to benefit from SCO membership?’ the jury is still out.
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Sharif meeting with Putin and Ghani
However, two other achievements from the Astana Summit are noteworthy.
One, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s one-on-one meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the SCO Summit. This is significant because Kabul had recently been hit by one of the worst suicide attacks killing 150 people with Ghani tweeting that ‘Pakistan continues to host terrorist sanctuaries’ and that it ‘still believes that sponsoring terror is a controllable tool that can be switched on and off as part of the means to achieve goals.’ What emerged from the meeting that both Pakistani and Afghan leaders agreed to ‘intensify joint efforts to fight terrorism in all of its forms that threaten the security and stability of the two countries and use Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) mechanism as well as bilateral meetings to agree on specific actions, and monitor the actions taken against such terrorist groups.’
Kabul and Islamabad also ‘agreed to assign working teams to put together plans to intensify measures to eliminate terrorist networks in their respective territories. The first meeting will be hosted in Kabul followed by Islamabad.’ The QCG includes China, US, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Two, PM Sharif’s one-on-one meeting with Russian President Putin. In the Riyadh Summit last month, media reports suggested that US President Donald Trump skipped mentioning Pakistan and PM Sharif causing him embarrassment at home. In this backdrop, Sharif meeting with Putin and discussing bilateral ties was a welcome relief.
In response to Sharif’s warm-up ‘we want a multidimensional relationship with Russia in the fields of trade, defence, energy, infrastructure, culture and other spheres,’ Putin assured Sharif that Russia would extend cooperation in every field especially Islamabad’s war against terrorism.
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So, what can the world expect from SCO?
Under President Trump, the US is slowly and gradually leaving the world leadership. Only recently US abandoned the Paris Climate Agreement. It earlier withdrew from TPP (Trans-Pacific Pact).
China’s visionary leader Xi Jinping is strategically filling these gaps. SCO is now an eight-member body, two of which are permanent members of UN Security Council and four are nuclear powers. In term of population served, it’s the world’s largest club.
I tend to think that SCO and China are the new leaders of the emerging world, connecting and impacting people and leaders in Asia-Pacific, East Asia, South Asia, West Asia and Eurasia regions.
After the Astana summit, China took over the rotating chair of the SCO. It will host the next SCO summit in June 2018 in China.
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People-to-people bonds in SCO member states
An important SCO pillar is increasing people-to-people bonds, youth in particular. Since China spent the last century as a self-contained country, China is now opening up to the world for a two-way understanding.
Xi proposed media cooperation among the SCO member states, saying China would host the first SCO media summit.
Hinting at a long haul, Xi said China will ensure the success of the SCO University, the youth exchange camp and the summer camp for elementary and middle-school students. China will host SCO activities like cultural and art festival, women’s forum and skills contest of workers, and strive for progress of SCO cooperation in health, disaster relief, environment protection, sports and tourism.
China will launch a ‘China-SCO cooperation program in human resources development’, under which China will invite representatives from SCO states to seminars and workshops in China, send Chinese experts to SCO states to give policy advice, carry out local training programs in SCO states and provide government scholarships.
The above indicates that it’s not mere security, terrorism or trade that SCO (and China) is planning to achieve, it perhaps has a 50-year plan to influence the next two generations and unite them under China’s leadership.
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Wali Zahid is an award-winning journalist, futurist, disruptor, blogger, social media strategist, reformer, LinkedIn writer and author of iBook, Great Training in 10 Steps.
He runs a #Pakistan2050 hashtag on Twitter and appears on national TV on issues of significance to Pakistan.
On walizahid.com, he’s writing a series called How We Messed Up Pakistan.
As CEO of SkillCity, he coaches several Fortune-500 CEOs on leadership.
He’s founder of a global movement for humanizing medical education and practice. He’s President of Institute of Media & Communications which he founded in 1993.
He can be reached on Twitter @walizahid
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