FOREIGN Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi who represented the Prime Minister at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Dushanbe while addressing the assemblage rightly pointed out that Pakistan had played an important role in combating terrorism and religious extremism and the organisation could benefit from its experience in combating terrorism. In the context of SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure he also reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to combat terrorism in all its manifestations, support for peace and stability in Afghanistan, adherence to the charter of the organization, SCO initiatives regarding promotion of trade among member countries and regional connectivity. As far as terrorism and religious extremism are concerned, Pakistan as a front line state in the war against terror has made a sterling contribution in subduing the scourge which had almost affected all the countries represented in the SCO besides Pakistan and Afghanistan. The country’s armed forces through their campaign have crushed and eliminated terrorist groups from its territory. In doing so Pakistan has paid a heavy price as tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers had embraced martyrdom besides injuries to others. The fight is still on in the form operation Raddul Fasad under which the remnants of the terrorists and their sympathizers are being targeted. The fight against terrorism and religious extremism has been a very painful undertaking and has surely equipped the armed forces and other law enforcing agencies with loads of expertise and knowledge regarding tackling the phenomenon. As pointed out by the foreign minister the member countries can surely benefit from Pakistan’s experience to deal with similar situations individually as well as collectively from the platform of SCO.
Pakistan has rightly recalibrated its foreign policy with increasing focus on relations with the countries of the regions as well as commitment to the cause of regional connectivity. Pakistan belongs to this region and its economic prosperity and security are inextricably linked to its own region. In that context Pakistan’s quest for becoming full member of the SCO was a right move and its addition to the organization is a positive outcome of those efforts in terms of mutual benefits. SCO is unique in the sense that it is based on a new model of state-to-state relationship that derives its strength from cooperative configuration rather than binding them into a formal alliance like NATO. The resolve of SCO to fight the menace of terrorism, promoting regional peace and security and working for shared economic prosperity are very much in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and needs desperately. Pakistan’s resolve to look to the region where it belongs, for finding solutions to its economic woes and other debilitating challenges represents a visionary paradigm shift in the conduct of its foreign relations.
The Presence of the giants like Russia and China in the SCO along with Central Asian states, rich in natural resources promise infinitesimal opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region. Granting of observer status to Afghanistan and associating Turkey with SCO have further strengthened the Organization. The economic linkages evolved through the SCO forum will also strengthen prospects of regional security. Pakistan presently faces an existentialist threat from terrorism and religious extremism and the member states of the SCO are also victims of this menace in varying degrees. Making a common cause and fighting collectively to stop it in its tracks stands a better chance of success and Pakistan can contribute to this effort as well as benefit from it tremendously. Pakistan is also confronted with a severe energy crisis and the materialization of TAPI and other trans-regional power and gas projects—for which Russia has already expressed its support in material terms— could help her to tide over the problem and nudge the process of economic revival.
Pakistan presently is also engaged in diversifying its exports and finding new and easily accessible markets for its products. The SCO states with almost one fourth of the world population having geographical proximity with Pakistan and easy accessibility constitute a very lucrative market for its exports. Similarly it can attract the required investments in the energy and infrastructure sector in which some of the SCO countries have a comparative advantage. The strategic location of Pakistan in the region and its economic potential can also help the SCO members to exploit their economic potential to the maximum. With the prospects of Afghanistan and Iran and possibly Turkey also joining the Organization in the near future, SCO is likely to emerge as a very strong regional Organisation. The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to work together to promote and create a new political and economic world order. In the prevailing global environment wherein a sole superpower supported by its western allies is feverishly engaged in fashioning a new world order chiseled to its own perceptions which in certain cases has created more threats for the world peace and security, the role of SCO in firming up the new world order and eliminating the vulnerabilities of this region to foreign intervention, assumes greater significance. Regional organizations like SCO are perhaps the best forums to strengthen regional security and preserving world peace. These considerations made a very strong case for Pakistan to seek membership of SCO and present it with an historic opportunity to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. The foreign policy of Pakistan has finally found the right direction that promises to serve its national interests,
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.