17th SCO Summit in Astana: SCO becomes centre of gravity in international diplomacy
By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Having four nuclear powers in its fold, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has become center of gravity in international diplomacy after India and Pakistan joined this forum on Friday in Astana.
This was the first time that UN Secretary-General attended SCO Summit. Attendance of UN Secretary-General António Guterres in SCO Summit Astana was quite symbolic and a confirmation that organization is becoming the real political power in the international arena. However, all member states of SCO are facing a similar threat of growing terrorism in and around their territories.
17th SCO Summit in Astana pledged to formulate a joint strategy to fight out international terrorism through regional cooperation. Illegal migration and terrorism were two issues those actually determined mood of Friday’s Summit.
SCO now is forum of eight states. China tops in population growth while India is second largest in population. Pakistan stands at 6th position while Russia stands at 9th position in population growth.
Russia with its 17.1 million square kilometres area stands as largest country of the world while China stands at 3rd position in land size and India is at 7th position while Kazakhstan stands at 9th position in land size.
China, Russia, India and Pakistan are not only nuclear powers but are leading countries in missile technology and collective size of their armies is largest in the world. However, India and Pakistan are archrivals and their economic resources are being spent to maintain their survival against each other.
Now SCO member states cover a space about 23% of the globe comprising of 45% of world population earning 25% of total world GDP.
Everyone present in Astana Summit was worried about law and order situation in Afghanistan because three-decade old Afghan civil war is the major impediment in archiving regional peace and prosperity.
“Afghan war” was the common pair of word echoed in Summit hall when heads of member states were delivering their speeches. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was quite vocal telling the participants that how Afghan Army had been facing defeats and deaths in areas bordering Central Asian republics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was of the view that military solution for Afghan civil war is not working and Afghan war is (was) hampering regional developments and international peace. He appreciated the Afghan government for announcing Kabul initiative for peace but added that open dialogue between stakeholders must be the top priority for such peace initiative.
Russian President Putin revealed that Islamic State terror group also known as Daesh and other terror groups were active in the SCO member states, which was proved during the investigation into the metro terrorist attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. He stated that terrorists based in Afghanistan have been seeking to enter Central Asia and Russia.
Putin informed other heads of member states that Daesh plans to destabilize southern Russia and Central Asia.
“We have information that the IS has been making new plans to destabilize Central Asia and southern Russia. There is a need to strengthen coordination between special services and counter terrorism organisations of member states”, added Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Indian Prime Minister Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also indicated that the most critical issue being faced by the humanity is terrorism and SCO members must work together to defeat it.
Participants of SCO Summit also indicated that illegal migration leads to global terrorism and recent wave of terrorism in Europe is linked with illegal migration and instability in Middle East.
SCO Member states and SCO Observer states have been expressing their concerns over Afghan war since long and Pakistan suffered a lot due to volatile Afghanistan. As many as 70,000 innocent civilians lost their lives during the last 6 years in Pakistan in terrorist attacks by the hand of a terror outfit having a brand name of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The leadership of TTP is hiding inside Afghanistan since Pakistan launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists in June 2014. The Afghan government says that it has no control over areas where TTP leadership is hiding while US and NATO forces have also failed to find TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah in Kunar province of Afghanistan where is reportedly living with his family.
It may be recalled that Pakistan, India, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Afghanistan attended Afghan Peace Conference held in Moscow on April 4, 2017 in a bid to initiate peace dialogue between fighting Taliban group and the Afghan government. However, the Afghan government sent a low profile delegation for Moscow Peace Conference hampering credibility of this conference. Taliban refused to attend the event after receiving the list of names of Afghan delegation a night before Moscow Peace conference. Taliban while regretting their participation in Conference said that the Afghan government was not serious in political dialogue with them therefore it (Afghan government) sent a low profile delegation having no powers to give commitment for peace.
Afghanistan is an Observer of SCO and the Afghan president held meetings with heads of member states including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister of Pakistan on Friday.
A number of important meetings among heads of member states took place on Friday including meeting of Russian President Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Russian diplomats consider President Vladimir Putin meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as “constrictive”. Both leaders discussed bilateral relations, including trade and economic cooperation, and also current international issues. Vladimir Putin congratulated Nawaz Sharif on Pakistan’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The proposal of China to hold SCO Media Summit before next SCO Summit for the heads of states is also an interesting initiative because SCO member states saw almost a black out situation regarding converge of 17th SCO Summit in Astana in western press. There is possibility that SCO member state move for a joint media strategy and device media tools to promote SCO cause and working among media houses of member states.
Astana Declaration and the Convention on Combating Extremism and a statement on fight against terrorism was signed by heads of member states. Astana Declaration covers a joint plan for implementing the program for cooperation between the SCO countries in tourism in 2017-2018 and a memorandum on mutual understanding between the SCO Secretariat and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was signed.
This is a big diplomatic achievement of Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif that his personal relations with heads of states of Central Asia helped Pakistan to become a member of SCO within four years when he came back in power.
It may be remembered that inclusion of Pakistan into SCO as full member needed unanimous approval from all member states as per rules of SCO. Indian lobby was working to stop inclusion of Pakistan and India at the same time and there was a proposition to include India at first and let Pakistan wait for some more years. However, three heads of Central Asian States who had cordial relations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since independence of their states were of the view that Pakistan should be included without delay. It may be mentioned that Pakistan was the first country to start air linkages with Central Asia states after their independent from former Soviet Union during the first term Nawaz Sharif as prime minister (1990–93). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first head of state from South Asia who visited newly independent Central Asia states. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, the then Uzbek President late Islam Karimov and Tajik Emomali Rahmon were ruling their countries as heads of states and all were (are) impressed by swift diplomacy and friendly relations of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
During Ufa SCO Summit in 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz held separate and details meetings with three old friends and insisted their full support for SCO membership. His personal relations with heavy weight personalities like Nursultan Nazarbayev, late Islam Karimov and Tajik Emomali Rahmon worked out and Pakistan got strong support from them in a meeting that was fixed to decide the fate of Pakistani membership. Pakistan was already supported by China and Russia therefore decision came in favour of Pakistan.
Pakistan and India were given time to sign SCO Charter documents that include no bilateral conflict would be discussed or presented to SCO forum. Both countries fulfilled their obligations before Astana Summit and their memberships were approved through Astana Declaration.
There is no doubt that membership of SCO is a landmark victory for government of PM Nawaz but it comes with many responsibilities to get maximum benefit out of this forum and the foremost issue is capacity building to get outcome from this new land of opportunities.
Pakistan can take tremendous benefits of being a member of SCO but it has to build its capacity to get such benefits. All of SCO members except China speak Russian language that is also an official language of SCO along with Chinese. Majority of Indian diplomats, bureaucrats and traders are conversant in Russian language due to Indo-Russo 70 years old relationship. Meanwhile, such bilingual expertise is not present in majority of Pakistani diplomats, bureaucrats and traders.
Another issue is to understand the mind-set and market trends of former Soviet Union states.
It may be mentioned that Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are former Soviet Union states and have peculiar and unusual style of business, negotiations and fixing trade deals. Pakistan has to understand their social fabrics, their language and their administrative structures to bag trade and business opportunities.
There is no land connection properly established with Central Asia from Pakistan due to war ridden Afghanistan that falls between Pakistan and Central Asian borders. Reliable air route is also not available. There is only one flight from Pakistan to Tashkent and that also runs on load basis. This flight started in April 2017 after termination of flight operations for four year. This flight was suspended during the month of Ramadan due to “no load” situation. This flight is run by Uzbek Airways.
On the other hand, India has direct daily flight from Delhi to Tashkent and Amartsar to Tashkent. Astana-Delhi flight is also runs on daily basis. Now there will be two daily flights connecting Astana and Delhi starting in the first week of July 2017. It will be a challenge for Pakistan to enhance bilateral trade with Central Asian countries and Russia without people to people contact and without access to destination. There is no flight between Pakistan and any Russian city and flights via Middle East are too expensive.
Did Pakistan do some capacity building of its traders, businessmen, bureaucrats and diplomats to deal with this new land of opportunities after its application for membership was approved in Ufa?
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of Dispatch News Desk.