By Ayaz Ahmed
Pakistan has finally acquired its one of the significant foreign policy objectives when it was granted full-time membership into the powerful Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on July 10, 2015 at its 15th Summit. Now after having fulfilled certain statutory and legal requirements, the country has formally become a full-time member in the recent meetings of the SCO at its Heads of State Summit in Tashkent. This membership provides Pakistan with a range of marvellous opportunities on economic, political and security fronts, but certain obstructive challenges also lie ahead.
At the Meeting of the Heads of States Council of the SCO, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif optimistically opined that Pakistan’s inclusion was a “turning point” in the history of the organization and it would prove to be a “watershed” in the changing geo-political landscape of the Eurasian belt, and mutually beneficial economic relations with SCO’s member-states would be Pakistan’s foreign policy priority. The vexed questions related to this historic breakthrough in Pakistan external policy are: what sorts of geostrategic and geopolitical opportunities this membership provides to Pakistan? Is Pakistan fully prepared politically, diplomatically and economically to capitalise upon the SCO? What stumbling blocks lie ahead which could create mounting challenges for Pakistan to take full advantage of the organization?
First, since independence Pakistan has maintained its tilt mostly towards the Western Hemisphere while depriving itself from the tremendous economic, military and political advantages of the erstwhile USSR, now Russia. The USA left her in the lurch in troubling times of 1965 and 1971, while the Soviet Union relentlessly continued its all out military and economic assistance to India. Now, Pakistan is again surrounded with vast geostrategic opportunities to revisit and diversify its foreign policy by fostering its economic and defence ties with Russia, China and the Central Asian Republics (CARs). Such a prudent decision would greatly help Pakistan neutralise itching points on Kashmir issue and on any futuristic conflict with bellicose India. It, too, will help Pakistan enhance its military and economic relations with these countries in the near future.
Second, CARs, China and Russia require inexpensive and nearest port to access the oil-rich Middle East, mineral-rich Africa and economically integrated Europe. Importantly, Pakistan’s Gwadar deep sea port is located at the gateway of the Strait of Hormuz, where roughly 40 per cent of world petroleum passes and the Middle East–that possesses 48 per cent of the world oil and 38 per cent of natural gas reserves–which could well make Pakistan a regional trade and energy corridor. Resultantly, Pakistan can conclude joint ventures with SCO’s members to improve its dilapidated road and rail infrastructure connecting its mainland to Eurasia, enhance economic relations with them, embark upon industrialisation and earn billion dollars as transit fees.
Third, Central Asian and Russian potential oil and gas resources would mitigate Pakistan’s ever-rising energy crisis. According to the British Petroleum’s 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy, only Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have 3.6 billion barrels of proven oil and 663.8 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves. More significantly, Iran and the P5+1 also inked an accord on the former’s clandestine nuclear programme which would result in lifting of international sanctions on Iranian economy, thus opening up its157 billion barrels oil and 1,187.3 trillion cubic feet gas reserves. The stalled work on Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipelines are expected to begin expeditiously. In this regards, Pakistan would be able to import gas through TAPI and IP. It can also seek out the technical assistance from Russian state-run gas giant, Gazpron, on its energy projects.
Moreover, Kazakhstan possesses the Central Asian largest recoverable coal reserves, 33.6 billion tones. Besides, according to the World Nuclear Association, it holds the second largest reserves of uranium with 679,300 tonnes, 12 per cent of the world’s total uranium. Pakistan needs potential resources of uranium to produce inexpensive and clean nuclear energy and uses them for strategic purposes.
Fourth, terrorism is a major problem insidiously plaguing Pakistan with losses of nearly $ 100 billion and around 50,000 lives. Pakistan shares SCO’s concerns regarding the three evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism. Under the umbrella of the SCO, it would acquire comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-militancy assistance from the Tashkent-based Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) to stamp out rampaging terrorism, bubbling militancy and disruptive low-intensity insurgency of restive Balochistan. Moreover, coordinative intelligence sharing and joint operation between Pakistan and Uzbekistan will greatly help them clamp down upon the deadly Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan that carries out fatal terrorist attacks on Pakistan time and again.
Fifth, Pakistan can adopt a two-pronged approach by joining hands with the SCO to ruin drug cultivation in Afghanistan and bust drug cartels operating in the region. With China, Russia and India, Pakistan may conduct vigorous joint naval anti-narcotics drive in the Arabian Sea against the drug smuggling. Finally, with the support of the SCO members, Pakistan can play a bigger role in Afghan’s reconciliation and rehabilitation. Afghanistan possesses over $ 3 trillion worth mineral resources. Pakistan can persuade China, Russia and CARs to come forward with their technological know-how and fiscal resources to help Afghanistan benefit from its natural resources and play a bigger role in Afghan reconciliation. When suitable, Pakistan may bank upon the SCO to resolve plethora of Indian diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, reportedly supporting terrorism and insurgency inside Pakistan.
However, Pakistan is faced with a host of internal problems which could make it rather elusive for her to reap rich dividends from the SCO. The issues include, i.e. lethargic political will to seriously move ahead, widespread corruption, bureaucratic red tape, inadequate and dilapidated transport infrastructure, continuing terrorism, militancy, insurgency creating deteriorating law and order situation, energy shortages, brain drain, disinvestment, outflow of considerable capital, simmering insurgency in Balochistan and federally handpicked Provincial incompetent and toothless set up making Gwadar port and trillions dollars’ worth Provincial resources elusive and prone to corruption and misappropriation.
The writer edits The Asia Watch.