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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

SCO: World’s Greatest Regional Alliance Part -II

The Pakistani premier was in Tajikistan on a two-day visit i.e. 16-17 September 2021, during which he attended the 20th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's (SCO) Heads of State Summit in Dushanbe, which helped Pakistan to play greater diplomatic role in galvanizing regional support for helping the war ravaged Afghanistan regain peace, economic and security stability under Afghan Taliban rule after eviction of U.S. led interventionist block. While Afghanistan remained the main topic for discussion by all the participating countries, side line meetings among Heads of States/ Governments and accompanying delegations also made good use of the occasion to explore other avenues of bilateral as well as multilateral economic and security cooperation, as per the charter of SCO.

The SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, the creation of which was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Charter, formally establishing the Organisation, was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003. As of now, SCO has 9 permanent members i.e. China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India and Iran (approved as a member during the current summit). Presently, three countries — Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia — have an observer status with the SCO, and six countries — Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka — have a dialogue partner status. The guest attendance includes ASEAN, CIS, UN and Turkmenistan. The Heads of State Council (HSC) is the supreme decision-making body in the SCO, it meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on all important matters of the Organisation.

The SCO is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation. The main goals of the SCO are strengthening mutual confidence and good-neighbourly relations among the member countries; promoting effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology, culture as well as education, energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection and other fields; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region, moving towards the establishment of a new, democratic, just and rational political and economic international order. Military exercises are also regularly conducted among members to promote cooperation and coordination against terrorism and other external threats, and to maintain regional peace and stability. SCO has three main components i.e. political, economic and security that in a way is considered a fitting response to EU and NATO with USA in the leadership role. The SCO is widely regarded as the "Alliance of the East", due to its growing centrality in Asia-Pacific, and has been the primary security pillar of the region. It is the largest regional organisation in the world in terms of geographical coverage and population, covering three-fifths of the Eurasian continent and nearly half of the human population.

I had written in June 2019, “SCO: World’s Greatest Regional Alliance” and opined that ‘USA has paid a lot of heed to her former national security advisor and political scientist Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski’s book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives” (1997) who termed the landmass of Eurasia as the Centre of global power, and formulated a Eurasian geostrategy for the United States focusing on the exercise of power on the Eurasian landmass in a post-Soviet environment making good use of Halford J. Mackinder's Heartland Theory. In particular, he wrote, “it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger should emerge capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America's global preeminence. According to Brzezinski, “whosoever controls Eurasia landmass, will dominate the world; and key to Eurasia is Central Asia ''. That explains US and allies’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and SCO’s evolution in the same year. While the USA regards China as a leading global economic competitor, resurgent Russia remains her primary military challenge on the global horizon. China led SCO and Russia led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) has gradually got good traction as an effective counter balance to American Asia Pivot renamed Asia-Pacific Rebalancing policy, that gave India strategic primacy in the region to take care of China and Pakistan, which is playing the key role in realisation of Chinese greatest economic and security connectivity programme called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) involving more than 60 countries and an investment of over a trillion dollars’.

All the same, SCO Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan(12-14 June 2019) and just concluded(16-17 September 2021) Summit in Dushanbe Tajikistan has established SCO as a reinvigorated regional political, economic and military alliance ready to face ominous military threat due to US/ Allies’ military exit from Afghanistan and the Middle East; and fresh marshalling of new strategic Alliances in the Asia-Pacific like QUAD (U.S., Australia, Japan, India) and the formation of a new security partnership between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom(AUKUS ) with greater ramifications for the whole region. Obviously, this development is the harbinger of commencement of a New Cold War in which NATO is getting replaced by QUAD (Mini NATO)/ AUKUS versus SCO/CSTO in the Asia-Pacific region.

I had the singular honour of being the maiden representative of Pakistan in the SCO Security Forum held in Beijing in early 2005 that paved the way for Pakistan’s invitation at the summit level in later part of the same year. Later on, from 2007 to 2010, I got another honour to be the Defence Advisor in Central Asian Republics( Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), that not only helped in developing very strong and cordial military to military relations with all CARs and Russia, but also helped in developing and projecting greater understanding of SCO and CSTO potentials and urging the Government of Pakistan to make serious efforts to be permanent members of both the organisations for comprehensive security and economic interdependence and mutual pursuance of common regional as well as respective national security interest. It is a matter of great satisfaction, that consistent efforts led by military diplomacy and followed by political diplomacy have yielded positive results, with Pakistan now being permanent member of SCO and membership of CSTO around the corner, with just concluded outreach by Pakistani Prime Minister to Presidents of Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan for expanding security and economic relations. It is satisfying to note that Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan stands vindicated and all regional countries stand together to bring around peace and stability in Afghanistan. Needless to say, both SCO and CSTO not only provide joint security umbrella to the member countries but also present greater opportunities for completion of CASA-1000 projects, enhanced regional connectivity, cooperation, interdependence, conflict resolution, economic interaction especially in the fields of science and technology, Defence production, energy, education, agriculture, sports and tourism. It will be prudent that in the given milieu, the Government of Pakistan gives time bound specific goals to be achieved by our missions abroad and particularly in SCO member countries. Implementation of free visa regime and promotion of enhanced people to people contacts can bring around the desired miracle. Pakistan has been blessed by Almighty Allah with infinite natural resources, four weathers, resilient people, and above all great geo-strategic location; sincere and visionary leadership can get the country on the path to long awaited prosperity and comprehensive security that is the simplest manifestation of seeking national interest.

Last but not the least, Pakistan should not accept any more heavy lifts especially with regards to urging the Afghan Taliban to give more reprieve to forever hostile proxies in Panjshir/ Northern Afghanistan. While fulfillment of promises made by the stakeholders is their respective responsibility including a broad based all-inclusive government, it is Afghan Taliban interim government’s obligation to hold elections in their own way and give representation to non-hostile minorities in Afghanistan including Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen etc.

18 September, 2021

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