The annual summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) i.e., the 19th Meeting of the Council of the Heads of State was held in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan on June 14. The huddle underscored the need of promoting stability and development in Afghanistan, bolstering regional security and combating terrorism, renewing investment and economic integration efforts, and humanitarian cooperation among the member states.
It was the second year in which Pakistan and India participated in the annual summit as full members. In his address Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted terrorism, climate change and narcotic drug threat as common evils inflicting the SCO member states. On the issue of Afghanistan, he reiterated Pakistan’s stance of seeking an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led political solution to the war.
He invited investment in Pakistan on the premise of having skilled human resource, agrarian economy, significant tourism potential, developed IT infrastructure and diverse mineral wealth. Talking about regional peace, he emphasized raising Shanghai Spirit to mitigate conflict, foster confidence and promote stability.
The common thread in the keynote messages from the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Russian President Vladimir Putin was the proposal to enhance economic ties among the bloc’s members with an emphasis to integrate the Eurasian Economic Union with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to build a large Eurasian Partnership.
President Xi talked extensively about the importance of mutual trust, mutual benefits, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity and pursuit of common development.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a new set of countries emerged bordering China with inevitable border disputes. In 1996, China, in collaboration with Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan agreed upon measures to demilitarize borders and settle issues through what came to be known the Shanghai Five process. In time, the group added new features such as military confidence building measures and the pledge to not allow member states’ territories to be used against each other. The scope and coverage of the Shanghai Five demanded expansion as the trend of religious extremism, separatism and international terrorism increased. Therefore, with the addition of Uzbekistan in 2001 the group was renamed as SCO. Pakistan and India were made permanent members of SCO in 2017, bringing the total number of member states to eight. Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia are observer states, while Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey are dialogue partners.
Before this happens both the countries have to work on confidence building measures to bridge the gap caused by trust deficit, which cannot be possible unless the corridors of dialogue are opened. India’s reluctance to talk on Kashmir is the bane of all confrontations. For once, this resistance shall have to be abandoned because Pakistan is a key party in any solution of the Kashmir problem. And if India believes that by mutating its constitution in favour of an India-led Kashmir solution there will be peace, nothing could be farther from the truth.
The institutional representation of SCO’s counterterrorism focus is the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), which was established in Tashkent in 2004. Considered the backbone of the organization, RATS along with the Beijing based SCO Secretariat has strategized its initiatives across three imperatives: Collecting and sharing intelligence; constructing database on terrorists, separatists and extremists, and organizing extradition; and, joint military exercises among member states. Peace Mission is the face of military cooperation of the organization under the aegis of which joint military drills have been regularly undertaking since 2005. In 2018 Pakistan participated in the anti-terror military exercise held in Chebarkul, Russia from August 24-29.
The SCO is not a platform to resolve bilateral issues besetting member states, however, the organization is also not insensitive to problematic relations among them. This is what the new Secretary-General of SCO Vladimir Norov pointed out in his March 21, 2019 press conference. He said that participation in the security grouping could become impossible without a commitment for an unconditional fight against terrorism and separatism. He was referring to the tension between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack. He also emphasised on the member states’ unwavering commitment to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism.
Though the Prime Ministers of both India and Pakistan shook hands at the Summit in Bishkek, albeit with little warmth and almost no sign of beginning the long-awaited process of dialogue for the resolution of outstanding issues. If Narendra Modi was referring to terrorism as the menace inflicting his country from across the border, Imran Khan was condemning the same in all its forms and manifestations. Both the leaders blamed the other, without naming anyone of course, of being on the wrong side of the history. It is this mould that the SCO platform aims to break and bring both the countries at a level where rivalries become secondary to economic and national interests.
For many years now Pakistan has been trying to persuade India to resume the process of dialogue to move forward, but India has been dragging its feet on it, with a recurrent ‘demand’ that unless Pakistan forsakes terrorism, India would not sit across the table to negotiate peace. Not only does this imply false allegations against Pakistan, it is just a lame excuse to divert attention of the world from the uprising in Kashmir – a freedom struggle to which India has given the name of terrorism and falsely framed Pakistan as its instigator.
The SCO is a place where India and Pakistan could find common ground in economic integration to form an alliance that transcends politically motivated issues. Before this happens both the countries have to work on confidence building measures to bridge the gap caused by trust deficit, which cannot be possible unless the corridors of dialogue are opened. India’s reluctance to talk on Kashmir is the bane of all confrontations. For once, this resistance shall have to be abandoned because Pakistan is a key party in any solution of the Kashmir problem. And if India believes that by mutating its constitution in favour of an India-led Kashmir solution there will be peace, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Since coming to power Prime Minister Imran Khan has made repeated peace overtures to India, overtures to which India’s response has been lukewarm and belated to say the least. The election optics apart – for which Modi portrayed Pakistan as the only enemy from which emanates all the evils inflicting India – the threat of terrorism in South Asia is real and cannot be ignored, especially when the U.S. is planning withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The emergence of Daesh in Afghanistan with a foothold in India and more recently in Sri Lanka needs unequivocal commitment of all the South Asian countries to consider this new and lethal face of terrorism, a common evil. With the participation in the economic opportunities offered on the SCO platform, especially the BRI initiative, India and Pakistan along with Afghanistan can build a relationship of mutual trust, peace and prosperity. The ball is in India’s court to decide if it accepts BRI and bring prosperity to millions or it keeps the lid of animosity open to allow more dishevelment to occur.
The writer is a columnist who writes for national print media.
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