SCO INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATION can it build the bridges
Since the ancient times, alliance system has been into the international arena, perhaps because of the fact that it provides an assurance of firm support and commitment by the other. However, with much of the polarization in the realm of international politics, relations among states have also been revamped. Alliances and organizations could be of great benefit if they are operated at their full potential because organisations don’t exist on their own; they consist of participants, and their success or failure is determined by the extent to which the goals of these participants coincide, to what extent they are ready to yield, and how they build interaction with each other.
One such organization is Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that can be a tide-bringer given the Asian century at its hand. The SCO is a competent intergovernmental organization that aims, inter alia, to strengthen mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promote their practical cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research, technology and culture, education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other domains; create joint efforts to maintain and guarantee peace, security, and stability in the region; and stirring towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new geopolitical and economic order. But, despite being members of this bloc, Pakistan and India have failed to resolve their disputes.
Besides creating a lot of disturbance domestically, extremist inclination of the Indian Prime Minister has worsened India’s relations with its neighbours. Sino-Indian tension has increased to an unprecedented level — India has occupied almost 20 peaks in the disputed territory of Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), has claims over Tibet and parts of Xinjiang, banned Chinese apps and investments, and imposed trade restrictions on China. On the other hand, Indian occupation of Kashmir, wanton violations of Line of Control (LoC), continued occupation of Junagarh and other Princely States, uninterrupted state-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan, refusal to implement UNSC resolutions on Kashmir, are but some example that are in sheer violation of the Shanghai Spirit. Moreover, India is opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while all SCO members are its beneficiaries.
Aligning itself with the United States, India has become the second biggest beneficiary of US assistance and aid, just after Israel. India joined the Indo-Pacific alliance, Quad, with Japan, Australia, and the US. India, by choice, has opted to be in the US camp. After singing a series of defence and strategic agreements with the US, especially BECA, India is totally in the lap of the US. India kept a distance from all neighbouring and regional countries and created disputes with all of them. With Nepal, territorial and trade disputes; with Bangladesh, border, ethnic and trade disputes; with Myanmar, trade, border and refugees disputes; with Pakistan, Kashmir, Princely States, trade disputes; Bhutan, political, territorial, trade and ethnic disputes; and even with Sri Lanka and the Maldives it has differences. So, it has no enthusiasm for regional groupings in which the United States is not a participant.
The “Shanghai spirit” is the core value of the SCO. It is about mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development among the SCO member countries.
On November 10, 2020, Russia hosted the 20th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) via video link. Leaders from all eight SCO member states and four observer states were in attendance, together with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the Secretary-General of SCO Rashid Alimov. Although this bloc could have served as another platform to bridge differences between two of its key members, i.e. India and Pakistan, Indian intransigence has been the major stumbling block in the way of achieving this goal. In his address to the Moscow meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan stressed that as part of its agenda, all SCO member countries must join hands to oppose divisive policies based on prejudice and discrimination and focus on building interfaith and cross-cultural bridges. But, on the other hand, Indian premier, Narendra Modi, tried to demean the objectives of the SCO and tried to take on Pakistan and China in same stroke without naming them under the garb of respect of sovereignty.
But the Modi government gives a wide berth to “Shanghai Spirit.” With at least two of the eight SCO members – China Pakistan – Modi’s government is barely on speaking terms and certainly lacks “mutual trust.”
When India and Pakistan were admitted to the SCO in 2017, political scientists and experts were divided into two camps: optimists and pessimists. Pessimists predicted that the admission of New Delhi and Islamabad to the organisation would mean its end: India and Pakistan would bring their array of conflicts to the organisation, completely paralysing its work. Optimists, on the other hand, said that without India, and even without Pakistan, one cannot build a full-fledged system of stability in Eurasia, so there was no real question of whether to accept them or not. Let’s accept them. Their logic went, and perhaps the parties will be imbued with what is called the Shanghai Spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding, and they will decide to put all quarrels aside and together help build a prosperous and calm Eurasia. So the two countries became members of the SCO.
Moreover, the dialogue on a number of issues, which had previously been successfully held within the SCO, has practically stopped, for example, on the fight against terrorism: if, before all interested parties effectively cooperated within the framework of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, now its work, if not paralyzed, then in any case has become significantly difficult. SCO rules require the Indian and Pakistani sides to exchange intelligence data in order to improve the fight against terror. This is quite difficult to do. It’s not even that Indian and Pakistani forces along the LOC in Kashmir exchange artillery strikes on an almost-monthly basis. Indians accuse the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of training and inserting militants in Kashmir to attack Indian soldiers and police officers, blow up government offices and shoot loyalists. The Pakistanis, in turn, claim that numerous Indian intelligence services, most notably the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), are conducting subversive activities in Balochistan, supplying the Baloch rebels with weapons and means to continue their guerrilla war. In theory, ISI and R&AW should exchange valuable information to prevent the growth of a terrorist tumour; it is clear that practically each side provides information in very limited doses and only on secondary issues, and mutual distrust is only growing.
The problem is that India and Pakistan joined the organisation with very different goals. Hardly anyone in New Delhi and Islamabad seriously believed that India, after joining the SCO, would expel separatist Baloch or that Pakistan would stop supporting Kashmiri Mujahideen. Pakistan wanted to raise its status and not be left behind in the negotiation processes on the future of Eurasia, while India wanted to find another platform for the implementation of its strategic goals, where it could oppose and interact with China. This divergence of goals calls into question the future of the SCO, for which there are three possible development scenarios.
The first, an optimistic one, assumes that India and China will either restore their border issue, or put things back the way they were, or find some other way to make sure that the border problem does not interfere with the development of their relations (for example, to turn the disputed territory into a neutral zone). Likewise, the contradictions between India and Pakistan would be resolved, or at least mitigated. This is an ideal scenario for the development of events that will add a new impetus to the work of the SCO, and dramatically increase its importance as a regional organisation. But it is unlikely to be fully implemented in the foreseeable future: if India is in principle, ready to negotiate with China, New Delhi does not even consider it necessary to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan. In recent years, India has been systematically building economic and political networks which bypass Pakistan, and it is unclear why it should stop this practice. But even if this scenario is partially implemented, it, in any case, will be good.
The second option implies that the SCO will not consider what is happening as a challenge at all, but will continue to work in areas where the contradictions between India, on the one hand, and China and Pakistan, on the other, are not critical, and consultations on issues, for example, the fight against terrorism, will be carried over to the bilateral level. This will significantly narrow its capabilities in the near future, but it may be salutary in a strategic sense: if the dispute is settled sooner or later, the SCO will continue to work in the areas that were interrupted earlier. One gets the impression that this option suits the Indian and Pakistani participants quite well, but there is a danger that, dealing only with a limited range of topics, the SCO will not survive until that moment, having turned into a ghost organisation like many others that exist only on paper.
And, finally, the third option – two organisations will actually appear within the SCO: one – relatively speaking, the “broader SCO,” where all the participants interact on those issues that do not cause any particular contradictions; and the “restricted SCO,” with alternative mechanisms of interaction, through which a dialogue is conducted on topics blocked by Pakistan and India. In short, broad engagement for everyone, the Shanghai Spirit for those who need it. Not a bad option from the point of view of a long-term strategy.
There is, however, a fourth option: the collapse and dissolution of the SCO which should be avoided, because there is no alternative to this format in the Eurasian space yet, nor is there one pending in the foreseeable future. Moreover, the SCO has the ability to fully implement its goals, but this can only be achieved through cooperation of all stakeholders, primarily by attracting business communities with government support. To do this, all member states of the organization must understand and reconsider relations through peaceful diplomatic negotiations.
The writer is a member of staff.
19th Meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of SCO
On November 30, the 19th Meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO-CHG) was held virtually. Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ms. Andleeb Abbas, represented Pakistan at the meeting.
In her speech, the Parliamentary Secretary highlighted the importance of SCO for Pakistan in achieving regional peace and stability and development of closer ties with regional partners through multi-faceted linkages and connectivity. She underscored the imperative of creating a safe and secure neighbourhood.
Condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state terrorism inflicted upon people living under foreign occupation in disputed territories, the parliamentary secretary cautioned against the recent rise in extremist and racist incidents, inspired by neo-Nazism and Islamophobia.
Ms Abbas emphasised the need for cooperation, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and expertise to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. She recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘Global Initiative on Debt Relief’ advocated the provision of fiscal space to developing countries to address the adverse economic impacts of the pandemic.
She said Pakistan valued the SCO region as a pivotal link for regional connectivity and integration. Connectivity projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), industrial parks and energy projects are laying the future of a prosperous and globally-connected region.
In the context of climate change, MS Abbas apprised the forum about the “Ecosystem Restoration Initiative” of the prime minister, which includes planting of 10 billion trees over the next three years.
She thanked member states for supporting Pakistan’s initiative for creating a Special Working Group (SWG) on Poverty Alleviation and said that it will provide an opportunity for sharing of experiences and exchange of ideas between SCO member states.
She reiterated PM Khan’s proposal for a multi-year SCO Youth Strategy focusing on building partnerships among educational institutions, offering scholarships and exchange programmes for youth in the scientific field.
She also underscored that PM Khan’s initiative of opposing illicit financial flows from developing nations, and bringing back stolen wealth would help affected countries pursue their development objectives.