SCO and Pakistan’s Vision of Peaceful Coexistence

In the 21st century, regional and global organizations have gained unprecedented significance in shaping the order of political, security, and economic systems globally. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), guided by Shanghai Spirit, is the world’s largest regional organization that aims to enhance security, political and economic cooperation between the member states to maintain regional peace and stability. Since its inception, SCO has gradually expanded its geographic scope and stature. Given the potential of SCO, it can play a vital role in attaining peaceful coexistence in the region and beyond.

SCO was formed in June 2001. Initially, a security pact was signed between Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan in 1996, and this security pact was called as Shanghai Five. After the inclusion of Uzbekistan in the group of these countries, a new organization named SCO was announced in 2001 to deepen political, security, and economic cooperation. Since then, the SCO continued to grow gradually and expanded its sphere. Pakistan and India became full members of SCO in 2017 and Iran’s bid to join SCO as full member was approved by permanent members of the organization on 17th September 2021.

When global institutions such as United Nations have failed to prevent the conflicts and crises, these conflicts cause millions of deaths across the globe. For instance, the US-led so-called war on terror has killed nearly 1 million people, especially the Afghan people who are still facing the brunt of the American attitude towards Afghanistan as the US has frozen Afghan reserves of $9.5 billion. More than half a million people have been killed by Indian occupation forces in Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir for over seven decades, and the occupied territory has become the largest open-air prison in the world. In such chaotic and uncertain circumstances, regional organizations like SCO can play an important role in establishing peace and stability in the region.

In the conclusion of the recent SCO Summit, held on 17th September 2021, Dushanbe Declaration was adopted on the 20th anniversary of the SCO that expressed the commitment of member states to strengthen the SCO as a pillar of the fair world that is emerging based on the supremacy of International Law and the UN Charter in particular. During the summit, the primary focus remained Afghanistan. Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia sought the accountability of the US for chaos and disability in Afghanistan. It demanded the US to engage with the Taliban for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is pertinent to mention that peace in Afghanistan and the region is in the interest of the entire world; therefore, every possible effort should be made to establish sustainable peace.

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, proposed a five-point way at the SCO summit that can significantly assist SCO in the attainment of peaceful existence in the region.

Firstly, as the world has suffered enough from unilateralism, therefore SCO needs to support effective multilateralism, and unilateralism should be discouraged at the regional and global levels. India’s unilateral decisions vis-à-vis Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) are illegal and endangering the peace and stability of the entire region. If the people of Jammu and Kashmir are given their due right to self-determination as per UN resolutions, particularly South Asia will witness durable peace. At the global level, US’ unilateralism has wreaked havoc across the globe; the resistance from SCO can deter the US unilateral decisions towards critical regional and global issues. NATO is becoming irrelevant as the European Union states, the UK, and the US independently pursue their military engagement. SCO can be more effective in these scenarios to emerge as a strong regional organization in the security domain.

Secondly, the COVID-19 has adversely affected the economic situation of the countries, and it has also given rise to unparalleled inflation in the countries. Germany is witnessing 28-year high inflation, and Americans see a worse situation than the Germans. The member states of SCO are no exception. The situation is worse in developing states. The SCO, which covers three-fifths of the Eurasian continent, 40% of the global population, and more than 20% of the world’s GDP, can develop a viable strategy to mitigate the impact emanating from the global pandemic. Strengthening these collective endeavors will further deepen the cooperation and promote mutual trust among the member states.

Thirdly, the situation in Afghanistan is a serious concern for all, especially the neighboring states. Peace and stability in Afghanistan are inevitable for peace in Asia. Pakistan’s great thinker, poet, and philosopher, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, had rightly stated the importance of Afghanistan for peace in Asia: “Asia is a body built of clay and water; Afghanistan is the heart in this body, If Afghanistan is in turmoil, the whole of Asia would be in turmoil, If Afghanistan is in peace, the whole of Asia would be in peace.”

In today’s scenario, if the world does not engage with the Taliban to stabilize the country, then it would become the heaven for the terror groups such as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Islamic State-Khurasan Province (IS-KP). The rise of such groups will spread terrorism and extremism that will negatively impact regional stability and peace. As the SCO aims to combat the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, Afghanistan’s case is a test for the organization to set a precedent.

There is no denying that the road to peace in Afghanistan is a challenging and demanding task that needs the strong will of all the stakeholders. The leaders of Afghanistan, whether they are in the government or part of opposition forces, and the regional states whose stakes are at risk due to instability in Afghanistan need to work together aggressively for the success of the development of Afghan society to bring perpetual peace in Afghanistan which would eventually result into peace and stability in the entire region. The spoilers of the peace cannot be overlooked; therefore, all the domestic and regional stakeholders should be cautious. The vested interests of the “few” cannot be entertained by putting the peace and stability of the entire region at risk. Unstable Afghanistan is not in favor of “many” especially the people of Afghanistan who have been facing socio-economic crises for many years. The proponents of peace should keep a close eye on the developments and not allow anyone to disrupt the peace efforts. Therefore, SCO should chart out a coordinated SCO approach towards the development of Afghanistan to ensure the economic stability that will enable Afghanistan to become a reliable partner in Asia’s shared and prosperous future.

It is pertinent to mention that the President of Pakistan, Imran Khan has not only discussed the core challenges to peaceful existence but gone one step further when he proposed to host two conferences, “Transport Connectivity for Regional Prosperity”, and “Youth Empowerment through Digital Economy”, to advance the efforts for regional connectivity and integration which would be vital for the vision of peaceful coexistence. Furthermore, Pakistan’s geostrategic location as a natural bridge connecting Central Asia with South Asia finds its manifestation through the platform of SCO.

There is no doubt that the web of rail, road, sea, and air links across the SCO region will usher in a new era of enhanced trade, energy flows, and people-to-people exchanges. This complex and soft connectivity will contribute significantly to progress and prosperity in the region and beyond. These trans-regional linkages will be reinforced by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is making steady progress.

In short, a significant part of the Eurasian region is going through major changes, and Afghanistan in particular, and today’s decisions will have a long-lasting impact on the region. Peaceful existence is the way forward, and that will bring prosperity for a longer period. Furthermore, to attain peaceful coexistence in the region, SCO’s role holds central importance. Indeed, it is rightly stated that “there is no alternative to peaceful coexistence.”

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About Zeeshan Shoukat 14 Articles
The author is a Geopolitical and Strategic Analyst. He writes on Indo-Pak Ties, Geopolitics of Indian Ocean, Evolving Dynamics in the Middle East, and Global Power Politics. He tweets at @_IamZeeshan