The rationale for supporting the idea of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a model of economic integration and regional cooperation comes from the belief that this will lead to the economic development in the entire region.
The Central and South Asian region has been labelled the most fragile region in the world, presenting similar patterns of limited cooperation and weak regional integration. In this context, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) aims to promulgate the idea of economic and security cooperation leading to new incentives for regional solidarity.
It is evident from the changing rules of the international community that most states today are driven more by geo-economics, rather than geopolitics, as was the case in the past. In this changing world order, economic considerations play a dominant role in the decision and policy making process within most countries. The rationale to support the idea of the SCO as a model of economic integration and regional cooperation comes from the belief that economic security and political stability are the outcomes of economic development. This has encouraged states like China to initiate programs to promote economic development, not only within their own country, but in the entire Asian market.
The second useful element incorporated in the SCO agenda is cross-border cooperation among member states. This concept has gained momentum after the inclusion of Pakistan and India as its members in 2017. The addition of these two warring nations has led to the prospect of the SCO functioning as a platform for conflict resolution. This multilateral forum enables states to set aside their bilateral issues, and instead focus on problems that affect the region as a whole. It is regional stability, which protects states from extra-regional powers, and will facilitate the development of regional infrastructure. Cross-border cooperation can also help strengthen military alliances between different states, in order to fight common threats like terrorism together.
The main focus of the SCO at present is to draft a framework to bring about stability in Afghanistan. As almost every state’s interest is driven by their desire for strategic and economic superiority, many countries have been looking at Afghan territory as an untapped market. China and Russia in particular have developed a mutual consensus for the promotion of peace and economic prosperity in Afghanistan, mostly as a way to promote their own agenda in South Asia. Like them, several other SCO member states also have designs for Afghanistan. Hence, it is imperative that using the SCO platform, all relevant states develop a joint plan of action to address the problems facing Afghanistan, as the success of this forum will ultimately depend on how different political factions cooperate with one another, as well as whether they can formulate a diplomatic course of action, with the express understanding of all parties involved.
A major challenge that faces the SCO is to devise a plan to bridge the many differences between Pakistan and India. The emergence of India as a rising economic hegemon in the region, with the support of the US government, has further complicated the situation. The only solution left for the SCO is to offer them incentives that no other nation or international organisation can match. China’s recent initiative to invite all SCO member states to join the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) was designed to do exactly that. However, the Indians have raised some objections over BRI, particularly pertaining to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), and these need to be resolved before further progress can be made on the matter.
The SCO has made some progress in improving the relations between Pakistan and India. The announcement that both countries would be participating in joint military drills for the first time in their history was a positive first step. Joint military exercises help in enhancing border security.However, keeping in view the regional setting, and the delay in proceedings of other regional organisations, like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), it is imperative that all agreements being made at the SCO are implemented within a specific time period, and do not deprive relatively weak nations to be dominated by the ones in power.
"The SCO has made some progress in improving relations between Pakistan and India. The announcement that both countries would be participating in joint-military drills for the first time in their history was a positive first step, as this could result in enhanced border security"
The other factor that can contribute in the effective implementation of the SCO agenda is by embarking on the path of multilateral partnerships on common grounds of economic development, security, regional stability and humanitarian cooperation. This approach would enable states to set aside their differences for a while and focus on issues of mutual concern.
UN Secretary General Antonio Gutevres recently voiced hope that having India and Pakistan cooperate on a new multilateral forum could develop the possibility for informal negotiations to resolve border disputes. With increased chances for economic partnerships, as well as the prospect of joint military exercises under the umbrella of the SCO, can theoretically lead to regional stability. Let us hope that these countries can set aside their differences and come together to make the SCO a success, ensuring a bright future for the entire region.
A version of this article appeared in Daily Times, newspaper.
Amna Tauhidi is a Research Intern at the Centre for International Strategic Studies (CISS). She holds MPhil degree in Government and Public policy from National Defense University. Her research interest includes traditional and non-tradition security threats, South Asian stability and instability paradox and the rising significance of the economic corridors in the era of globalization.