Irshad Salim — India and Pakistan will become full-fledged members of the China-Russia led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its next summit in June.
The development comes as SCO readies to mark the 10th anniversary of signing of Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation by SCO members.
“Yes, India and Pakistan,” said Secretary-General of SCO Rashid Alimov in Moscow on Monday on the sidelines of a conference on bilateral Russia-China ties, while making the announcement about the two warring neighbors joining the club, and predicting “a completely new quality of the organization since the six will gradually grow into eight.”
SCO, according to some experts, aims to develop both trade and military relationship between countries in China and Russia’s neighborhood.
Whether SCO will provide China and Russia an opportunity to mediate in the differences between the two new South Asian warring members however remains a question.
It is significant, as India refuses to permit external influence in its disputes with Pakistan and insists on bilateral talks. The latter is open to third party mediation specially in Kashmir. Turkey and the U.S. recently offered to mediate but Modi government rejected it. Pakistan however welcomed it.
With India and Pakistan formally becoming members, the SCO will become the largest regional cooperative organization with an aggregate population of 43-44 percent of the world’s population whose combined GDP exceeds $33 trillion, said Alimov. “The organization would become trans-regional, Alimov said according to Tass news agency.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov following their meeting in Russian capital on Friday said the SCO “will bring unprecedented development capacity and cooperation potential” — an euphemism China uses to promote its One Belt One Road Initiative.
As the SCO, according to Wang, aims to promote security cooperation to combat the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism (in the region) in a more precise and efficient manner,” the forum could nudge the South Asian members to first settle their long-standing dispute on Kashmir — considered a nuclear flashpoint by the international community.
SCO has held joint military exercises and worked on trade agreements among member countries, while the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), headquartered in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against the “three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism,” which Wang highlighted in his press conference.
Wang added that SCO will “safeguard the sovereignty and homeland security of all member states and maintain regional peace and stability.” Therefore, entry of India and Pakistan, which have serious differences among themselves, is expected to change the nature of business it conducts, analysts said.
Wang said Beijing is actively making a work plan that covers six major fields including politics, economy, security, humanities, foreign relations and mechanism-building.
Presently, the SCO comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as permanent member states.
The documents on India and Pakistan’s accession to the SCO were signed during the organization’s Tashkent summit in June 2016.
Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia hold observer status, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka have the status of dialogue partners in the SCO.
The SCO summit is expected to be held in Astana on June 8-9.
Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi are expected to exchange pleasantries. Their meet on the sidelines cannot be ruled out, as back-channel diplomacy is said to be at work.
The SCO is faced with both opportunities and challenges at the same time.