At a time when China is acting as vanguard of globalization in the face of protectionism and Brexit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is shaping the Eurasian future of multilateral cooperation through shared progress, neighborliness, security, and peace in the region.
Pakistan, now a full member of SCO, is best positioned to take advantage of evolving trends of trade, economy, defense, people to people contacts, and cultural exchanges conceptualized and driven by the Shanghai Organization Cooperation.
On shaping regional stability, the SCO has been weaving doable methodologies and models to dispel all forms of terrorism, separatism, and extremism as all member states have signed the Shanghai Convention on combating such evils. The regional anti-terrorism structure has already been brought into being to make things happen. Various security cooperation protocols, such as the SCO Convention against terrorism, the anti-drug cooperation agreement, and agreement on jointly fight against crime are in force as well.
As regional security is major area of attention, SCO has comprehensive programs of counter-terrorism exercises in dealing with cyber terrorism, strategic security, defense security, law enforcement security, information security, anti-drug, anti-money laundering, and fighting against organized transnational crime.
During 18th SCO Summit in Qingdao, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province, hopes are high for hashing out the next level of synergic collaborations in the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism under an extensive five year plan.
In order to revamp economy and trade among member states, vital agreements have recently been signed on the goal of multilateral trade and economic cooperation. SCO China Industrialist Committee and SCO Interbank Association are making tangible headways in energy cooperation, transportation, and telecom infrastructure construction.
Giving new shape to globalization and a shared destiny of the Eurasian region, SCO has blazed the trail in promoting the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). Pragmatic sense prevails as all SCO member states are on board on BRI development plans. Though India has reservations on CPEC, pilot project of BRI, but has a comprehensive role in BRI economic corridor called Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar (BCIM).
As this multi-modal corridor will emerge as the first expressway between India and China through Myanmar and Bangladesh and will have the potential to get integrated with the ASEAN Free Trade Area, ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, and the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area; India is going to cherish multilateral trading windfalls.
The SCO Qingdao Summit is highly likely to promise new ratification of documents to foster further economic integration despite multi-faceted odds.
Social sciences experts have lauded efforts in reshaping cultural avenues and people-to-people exchanges under the SCO framework. They believe that the best work being done by SCO is to maintain immersive cohesion in all spheres of life among those nations which are entirely different social systems, ideologies, religions, development models, and cultures.
With more in the pipeline, a number of documents in education, culture, disaster relief, and public health have been hammered out by SCO member states and nearly 102 recreational and sports activities been conducted. Senior Pakistan political analyst Rauf Tahir is of the opinion that what the SCO has been doing in harmonizing social and cultural values among SCO states has never before been achieved by other organizations. Credit goes to President Xi Jinping for unleashing cultural integration based on trust, compassion, and friendliness, he says.
With its advantages, SCO encounters some daunting challenges of coexistence with other organizations like Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Russia drives EAEU as China runs SCO. Both have the expansion capacity and capability to connect Eurasian countries through regional cooperation on economic, security, social, cultural, and political grounds. Some experts fear that both organizations SCO and EAEU may become embroiled in competition instead of complementing each other.
However, SCO has blossomed into a mature league striking a balance with the EAEU. Showing sensibility, it has been promoting theoretical and practical measures to generate harmony, letting both SCO and EAEU work within their specific spheres.
Bonanza to Pakistan
Attendance of Pakistan and India as full members in the pivotal 18th SCO summit is the main attraction. Having strong trade ties with central Asia and South Asia, Pakistan seems poised as an important stakeholder. Due to its geostrategic position and economic outlook, Pakistan is already reaping benefits being rained down upon it by SCO.
It is because of SCO spillover impacts that Russia, founding member of SCO, has been giving a leg-up to Pakistan to cope with its energy needs. A deal for approximately $2 billion for the construction of a gas pipeline from Lahore to Karachi is just the beginning. Pakistan and Uzbekistan signed an extradition treaty and accelerated infrastructural connectivity.
With CPEC, another game-changing route is on the cards. It will connect Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan through Trilateral Transit Trade Agreement (TTTA). The corridor will be handy in swift trade between Pakistan and Tajikistan against the backdrop of Tajikistan’s aspiration for oil imports from Kuwait through the Gwadar sea port and Pakistan’s interest in exploiting Tajikistan’s natural resources.
Quadrilateral Agreement on Traffic in Transit (QATT) among Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan will be highly instrumental in reshaping economic opportunities among the partners in order to multiply gains, key SCO players are striving to rope in Tajikistan soon.
Economic and trade ties among Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan are set to become more dynamic due to the new connectivity routes.
Pakistan has a lot of economic pressures owing to heavy debt-servicing and budgetary deficits. Miraculously, the situation is not out of control. The reason is CPEC and SCO. The world is cognizant of the fact that Pakistan being a key player in BRI and SCO has the economic mettle to fight against bankruptcy and financial crises. GDP growth at around 6 percent and a satisfactory rating by international financial institutions that assess the economic landscape is a source of relief for Pakistan.
Another edge is Pakistan’s ascendency as 122nd most competitive nation in the world out of 138 countries ranked in the 2016-2017 edition of the Global Competitiveness Report published by the World Economic Forum.
As per research paper “Significance of Shanghai Cooperation Organization – Pakistan’s Perspective” written by Dr Muhammad Saif ur Rehman, Pakistan’s permanent membership to SCO has greatly helped Pakistan consolidate its regional and global standing.
The writer is a senior journalist of Pakistan who writes about the economy, international relation and human rights in China Today, CRIOnline, The Nation, Daily Times and The News. He is a fellow of ICFJ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @yasirkhann