SCO on the path of expansion
June 15, 2012
The two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit ended in Beijing last week. China, now in chair, has emphasized the organization’s international role. The significant development of the 12th SCO summit was the granting of observer status to Afghanistan and the admission of Turkey as a dialogue partner.
The secretariat of regional body is working since 2007 to devise a mechanism to add more countries as full members but it has yet to enhance its strength which is currently six.
Addressing the summit, President Asif Ali Zardari expressed Pakistan’s desire to become a full member of the regional body — something the country has been pushing for since 2005 when it was granted the observer status.
The long-term benefits of being full member include a sure chance of being integrated with the energy-rich Central Asia through road and rails. China, under its Look West Policy, is heavily investing heavily in Central Asia to connect it with Europe and Middle East. Pakistan believes its seaports can help the landlocked Central Asia to open up to the Middle East.
As President Zardari indicated in his address at the SCO summit, terrorism poses a grave threat to the vision of achieving regional economic integration. The leading members of the regional body are also concerned over drug trafficking and emphasize collective efforts to tackle the menace.
A counterweight to NATO?
The SCO was originally formed in 2001 to ensure the territorial integrity of member states against the threats arising out of ethnicity and religious extremism but due to growing Sino-Russian military ties it is being dubbed by the western media as an Asian NATO.
Vladimir Putin, who took charge of Russian presidency this May, however, remained obsessed with the strategic issues. During his address at the summit, he said Russia would intensify military cooperation with China after the US decision to shift most of its warships to the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. Putin was making reference to Sino-Russian six-day naval exercises in the Yellow Sea off China’s east coast in April that involved drills, anti-submarine operations and the rescue of hijacked vessels.
“We favor the formation of an open and equal-minded security and cooperation architecture in the region, based on the principles of international law,” he said while he was in Beijing to attend the SCO summit.
Putin’s third tem in the presidency is marked with the commitment to enhance Russia’s prestige in the international politics. Russia is highly critical of the US unilateral foreign policy whereby it has initiated war against terror, invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and has recently become active in Middle East in a bid to overthrow authoritarian regimes. Russia has recently said that it would militarily resist any US effort to establish a missile defense system around its borders.
The Sino-Russian viewpoint about international politics is reflected best through the joint statement of SCO summit that says military intervention in Syria was not the proper way to resolve the crisis it is passing through and that dialogue is the only way out.
Will SCO succeed in Afghanistan?
The SCO earnestly wants US and NATO forces to leave Afghanistan. The post-drawdown scenario may prove challenging for it but it seems to be better prepared to tackle the situation.
Unlike the 1990s, when the neighboring countries acted individually to secure their particular interests, now there is a platform that can mediate their interests. There are little chances that Indo-Pak rivalry will spill over to Afghanistan and destroy its peace. Iran too is not in a position to pursue its interest in Afghanistan on its own.
China has no outstanding problem with Russia. They share the vision of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and are willing to rebuild the economic infrastructure of the country. Actually, by keeping the SCO a dynamic regional organization, they have created conditions that will help the US to execute its exit plan. But, certainly, to exit Afghanistan, the US will have to develop some understanding with China and Russia. How long the two sides of the divide take to reach some understanding on Afghanistan happens to be a matter of speculation.