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Pakistan’s Path to Leadership in the SCO

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Islamabad (Imran Y. CHOUDHRY) :- Former Press Secretary to the President, Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France, Former MD, SRBC Mr. Qamar Bashir analysis :
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) conference held in Astana, Kazakhstan from 3rd to 4th July on the central theme of “Towards a SECURE SCO,” attended by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, will focus on several key themes and objectives aimed at enhancing regional cooperation and addressing global challenges including Security, Economic Development, Connectivity, Unity, Respect for Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, and Environmental Protection.

Th theme encapsulates the SCO’s broader goals of fostering peace, stability, and prosperity among its member states China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, besides several observer states and dialogue partners that participate in various activities and meetings within the organization.

The SCO, encompassing major powers such as China and Russia, holds significant influence due to its vast landmass, substantial population, and abundant resources. The total landmass under SCO is 34.5 million square kilometers which is 23% of the world landmass. With over 40% of the population, abundant energy resources, robust service sector and a growing technological landscape, significant military, economic, and political weight, makes the SCO a formidable counterbalance to Western influence, particularly that of the United States and NATO, allowing the SCO to present a unified front on various global issues.

While the SCO currently focuses on economic, political, and security cooperation, its potential to evolve into a NATO-like military alliance exists. The organization already engages in joint military exercises, counter-terrorism efforts, and regional security initiatives. As geopolitical tensions rise, the SCO could formalize its military cooperation mechanisms, transforming into a more robust security alliance. This evolution would however depend on the geopolitical dynamics and the willingness of member states to integrate their military policies more closely.

The SCO has its downside as well. Its primary focus on Central Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, lacks direct representation from Europe, North America, and significant Middle Eastern countries, impacting its global influence and reach. This regional composition limits its ability to influence global geopolitics comprehensively and misses out on diverse perspectives from these regions, affecting the depth of discussions on global issues like climate change and international security. Moreover, the absence of major Western economies restricts deeper economic integration into the global economy and limits opportunities for technological and scientific collaboration. Additionally, the lack of coordination with major global security frameworks like NATO can reduce the effectiveness of anti-terrorism efforts.

By participating in the SCO conference, Pakistan aims to leverage its strategic location and historical ties with member states to further regional connectivity and economic integration, contributing to the overall stability and development of the Eurasian region.

The SCO provides Pakistan with an ideal platform to shift from seeking aid to showcasing its strengths and assuming a leadership role. By leveraging its vast and underutilized land in regions like Balochistan and KP province, and managing its mighty glaciers to provide year long abundant water supplies, Pakistan can enhance its agricultural output and become a key exporter of agro-products to SCO countries and position itself as a leader in food security and sustainable resource management.

Pakistan, with its young and cost-effective workforce, burgeoning IT sector, and vast natural resources, is poised to significantly benefit from and contribute to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The country’s growing number of IT-literate men and women are providing valuable services globally and can also market their services in the SCO member countries, enhancing Pakistan’s reputation as an emerging tech hub.

The fully functional yet underutilized Gwadar port stands out as a critical asset for Pakistan. As a warm water port, it can provide essential access to the sea for landlocked Central Asian countries, fostering regional trade and connectivity. Establishing peace in Afghanistan and connecting Pakistan with Central Asian countries via land routes can significantly enhance Pakistan’s geo-political and economic leverage. By capitalizing on these routes, Pakistan can facilitate trade, energy transit, and people-to-people exchanges, driving economic growth for itself and the region. In turn, this will solidify the SCO’s role in promoting regional integration, stability, and development.

If Pakistan wants to become the most influential member of the SCO, it should first put its house in order by taking steps like ensuring strong political stability and robust governance. Stable political institutions and effective governance are critical for consistent participation in SCO activities and commitments. Additionally, aligning with the SCO’s principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for cultural diversity, and pursuit of common development is essential.

Pakistan must demonstrate economic strength by fostering a strong and growing economy, promoting trade relations with other member states, and investing in regional economic integration initiatives. Effective management and utilization of its natural resources, including energy resources, agriculture, and technological advancements, will bolster its standing within the SCO.

Pakistan should also enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities, contributing to the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) through intelligence sharing, joint exercises, and training programs. Besides, active participation in joint military exercises and security cooperation initiatives with other SCO member states can solidify Pakistan’s role as a security leader within the organization.

Strengthening diplomatic engagement with other SCO member states through active participation in meetings, summits, and forums, and playing a mediating role in regional disputes will further enhance its influence.

Promoting cultural, educational, and people-to-people exchanges by establishing academic partnerships, cultural programs, and scholarships for students from SCO countries can build soft power.

Investment in infrastructure projects that enhance regional connectivity, such as transport corridors, railways, and ports, developing logistical capabilities, including efficient transportation networks and trade facilitation, is vital for supporting regional trade and economic integration.

Actively proposing and participating in regional development initiatives, such as poverty alleviation programs, sustainable development projects, and technological cooperation, can demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to regional progress. Additionally, contributing to regional energy security through cooperative projects in energy production, distribution, and technology will enhance Pakistan’s influence within the SCO.

By taking these comprehensive steps, Pakistan can significantly improve its standing and influence within the SCO, contributing to the organization’s goals of regional peace, stability, and development.

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