Can the Shanghai spirit ease tensions between India and Pakistan?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has emerged as a significant multinational Eurasian group. From the beginning, it has been struggling to combat the menace of radicalized militancy, while at the same time promoting the Shanghai spirit among member states. Currently, all eight members of the SCO are vulnerable to transnational radicalized militant organizations. They are worried about the increasing presence of Daesh in Afghanistan. In addition, they are facing border disputes. Without settling border issues, sustainable peace and cooperation among the members are impossible. The primary objective of the organization is spelled out in Article 1 of its charter, which states that it is necessary for SCO members’ to jointly counteract terrorism, separatism and extremism in all their manifestations. In addition, the SCO is determined to resolve border issues peacefully and agreeably.

India and Pakistan are relevant to the SCO agenda given the volatile situation in Afghanistan and the presence of radicalized religious groups on their soil. They were initially awarded observer status in the organization, and in June 2017 both were admitted as full members during the Astana summit in Kazakhstan, joining China, Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan participated as full members at the 18th SCO Summit, which was held on June 9 and 10, 2018, in Qingdao, a coastal city in east China’s Shandong Province. On the opening day, China’s President Xi Jinping welcomed them and said: “The entry of India and Pakistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will bolster its strength.” Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi represented their respective states. Both participated in the decision-making Council of Heads of States of SCO — which defines the strategies, prospects and priorities of the organization — and made positive proposals. Hussain recommended the establishment of a development fund to help eliminate terrorism and extremism. It will be used for capacity building and developing the skills of the youth in member states to prevent radicalization. Notably, China promised the equivalent of 30 billion Yuan ($4.7 billion) in loans under a framework formulated by the SCO countries. Modi suggested the concept of SECURE: “S” for security for citizens, “E” for economic development, “C” for connectivity in the region, “U” for unity, “R” for respect of sovereignty, and “E” for environment protection. He also promised to organize an SCO food festival and a Buddhist festival in India. Domestically, Pakistan has been encountering the menace of terrorism; therefore its full membership of the SCO provides an opportunity to learn from members the best ways to combat it, and to share its own experiences with the others. “The SCO’s regional anti-terrorist structure is an expression of our concerns on extremism and terrorism,” Hussain said during the plenary session. “We appreciate the progress of this forum toward its stated purposes.” Hence Pakistan’s membership is already contributing constructively to addressing radicalized militancy in Eurasia. Hussain reiterated during the summit that Pakistan sincerely works to establish peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan. Indeed, a peaceful Afghanistan is in the political and economic interests of Pakistan. Without ending the asymmetrical warfare in Afghanistan, the elimination of transnational terrorist sanctuaries from the country is unthinkable. The enmity between India and Pakistan hindered the efficacy of The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The general impression is that their belligerence might also spoil the functioning of the SCO. In reality, their hostility will not adversely affect the working of the organization because they will not be allowed to carry their baggage of hostility into SCO meetings and summits. Russia and China have carefully nurtured unity among the members of the organization. Certainly, they will not allow India and Pakistan to hijack the “Shanghai Spirit,” which Is embodied by deepening solidarity, mutual trust and increasing cooperation among the member states. The Chinese leadership seems optimistic about the improvement of bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. It believes the SCO provides a framework for belligerent neighbors to improve trust and strengthen cooperation. The Chinese foreign ministry said: “Both Pakistan and India have formally joined the SCO and we hope that the two countries will strengthen cooperation within the framework of SCO and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability.” Although the original members of the organization desire that the new members cooperate with each other for the sake of regional peace and stability, India and Pakistan are not prepared to restart a dialogue process for decreasing the tension between them. Hussain and Modi did hold bilateral meetings with leaders of the other SCO countries, but avoided a formal bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit. Indeed, they missed a golden opportunity to informally deliberate on their worsening bilateral relations and find a way to lessen the destabilizing situation at the Line of Control.

The continuing deadlock between New Delhi and Islamabad is frustrating but the ratification of a five-year action plan for implementing the Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation of the SCO Member States creates hope for the improvement of bilateral ties between them. Another positive development is that troops from both states will participate in an SCO anti-terrorism training exercise, titled “Peace Mission 2018,” from August 22 to 29, 2018, at Chelyabinsk in west-central Russia. India and Pakistan have been confronting many common threats and challenges. Without a sustained dialogue process, however, they cannot resolve them. Hence it is imperative that both sides act rationally and resolve their bilateral issues peacefully to save their peoples from deadly conflicts and harmful poverty.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in July 2018.


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About Dr. Zafar N Jaspal 13 Articles
The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad & Member Advisory Board at ‘Mélange int’l Magazine’ and Center of Pakistan and International Relations (COPAIR).