THE Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the political and security grouping that sees itself as a counterbalance to NATO, will formally admit nuclear powers India and Pakistan into its fold next week, an arrangement seen as mutually beneficial for both the SCO and the two warring nations.
While the inclusion will boost the SCO’s prestige by expanding its footprint and making it a regional cooperation with the largest coverage of the world’s population, there is also hope it will lead to improved ties between India and Pakistan.
Speculation is that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, as SCO bigwigs want the gathering held in a conducive environment.
China, meanwhile, has expressed hope for improved ties between the nations once they are inducted as full members of the Beijing-based SCO.
At her regular media briefing this week, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Beijing hopes both parties will strictly follow the organisation’s charter.
“Maybe someday you (Pakistani and Indian journalists) sit closer to each other,” she said, referring to press members gathered for the briefing.
“We sincerely hope that after their admission, India and Pakistan will act in strict accordance with the SCO Charter and the Treaty on Long-term Good-neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation, work for the shared goal, conduct friendly cooperation,” Hua added.
Weighed down by troubled histories and recent clashes, tensions between the two nuclear-tipped neighbours remain at an all-time high. Communal, sectarian and ideological fault lines run deep and wide, and using armed warfare, old disputes like the Kashmir conflict overlap new, with both sides accusing the other of supporting terrorism.
The dynamics may yet change, however, or at least, this is the hope, with both nations soon to be a part of the same international grouping.
The SCO was founded in 2001 by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Military cooperation among member states has largely been in the areas of intelligence sharing, counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia and joint work against cyber terrorism.
India and Pakistan were previously observers, along with Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia.
But with Russia pushing for India’s inclusion and China for Pakistan’s, both signed the Memorandum of Obligations on June 24, 2016, at Tashkent to join the organisation.
The enrollment of both nations as full members can “add fresh impetus to the development of the SCO [and] make the SCO the most populous regional cooperation organisation boasting world’s largest area. The SCO will embrace unprecedented space for development and potential for cooperation,” Hua said.
This first ever expansion of SCO since its establishment has also sparkled the interest of Iran, who has expressed interest in joining the grouping.
“I believe, that… in the near future Iran will take decisive steps toward joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full-fledged member,” Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mahmoud Vaezi said on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Business Forum (SPIEF)
In the same forum, Russia’s special presidential envoy to the SCO, Bakhtier Khakimov, humbly invited Iran and other eligible countries to be part of the organisation for the vitality of SCO.
“The next candidate, according to Russia, following India and Pakistan, should be Iran, as well as other states that meet our criteria for the SCO membership,” he said.
The SCO summit in Astana will go on from June 8 to 9.