Naveed Aman khan
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit 2019 was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on June 13-14. It marked the 2nd year in which India participated as a full member. Media hype in Pakistan surrounded will it or won’t it happen meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Premier Modi which ultimately resulted in an exchange of pleasantries only. The summit witnessed several key meetings that took place apart from the multilateral meetings of the Heads of State. The SCO Summit also garnered increased scrutiny on account of ongoing tensions in West Asia and the US-China trade war. The presence of Afghanistan and Iran as observers also made it an important venue to discuss vital regional issues.
Premier Imran Khan in his address to the SCO leaders presented his vision for the organization in the form of healthcare cooperation, economic cooperation, alternate energy, literature and culture, terrorism free society, humanitarian cooperation and of course CPEC. Elaborating on these pointers, IK called upon member states to ensure that nations that support, promote or finance terror must be held accountable, referring to India without explicitly naming it.
With regard to economic cooperation, IK criticized protectionist tendencies in trade amidst the US ending GSP status for Pakistani products getting ready to respond and the ongoing US-China trade war. In fact, IK’s vision was closely tied to the Bishkek Declaration, which also noted ongoing and future cooperation in healthcare, trade, counter-terrorism and response to natural disasters besides its traditional focus on security issues and terrorism. Year On terror, the declaration largely followed language from the Qingdao Summit declaration, reiterating SCO’s condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. There was support for WTO and the multilateral trading system and like other yearly declarations the members noted the need for increased cooperation between SCO member states in trade and services. However, concrete proposals for the same were few and far in between.
The Prime Minister noted the principles of respect for sovereignty, regional integrity, good governance, transparency to be essential for connectivity, obliquely referring to Pakistan’s reservations on CPEC in particular and BRI in general. On other issues of regional and international concern, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan found mention in the final document. The declaration called for consistent implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and asked all participants for comprehensive and effective implementation of the document a year after US pulled out of it. On Syria, the declaration noted the Astana format and the process of political settlement through the dialogue process. It also extended support to ‘post-conflict restoration by different states in Syria. Pakistan has already noted the importance of a Syria-led political process and supported the current regime during the ongoing conflict, while agreeing to get further involved in the reconstruction process. This puts its position on these issues broadly in line with the major SCO states but at variance with the US and its regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It fact Pakistan has sought to balance its relations with major players in the region, who have divergent positions on varied issues facing West Asia, a prospect that will get increasingly difficult to manage as the situation in the region gets more complicated. The Roadmap for Further Action of the SCO Afghanistan Contact Group’ was signed by the leaders and the declaration argued for an inclusive peace process conducted and led by Afghans themselves with UN playing the main role even as multilateral forums continue to interact on the issue. The Premier similarly highlighted Pakistan’s position of an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace process.
Apart from the multilateral talks, several important bilateral meetings took place on the sidelines of the summit. The Prime Minister held discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and also combined a bilateral visit to Kyrgyzstan – indicating Pakistan’s continued efforts to balance its relations at a tricky time in regional and global politics.
The talks with Putin looked at furthering the bilateral partnership through focusing on trade, defence and energy. The two leaders will again meet soon on IK’s visit to Russia.
Iran, who is an observer at SCO, has been in the eye of the storm in recent days with US accusing it of attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, the charges Iran has denied. The SCO as a grouping did not directly address the recent upheavals in West Asia, highlighting the cautious attitude the member states are taking in addressing the delicate situation.
The PM emphasized on better connectivity as being crucial for better trade ties. He noted that negotiations were on-going with regard to a bilateral investment treaty. The two countries signed the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement as talks continue on the preferential trade agreement. MoUs in areas of defence, ICT and health were exchanged. Invitation was also extended to the Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov to visit Pakistan, which was accepted. The SCO summit for 2020 will be hosted by Russia.
It is clear that SCO has become an important venue for the member states to interact but it is telling that bilateral meetings on the sidelines have garnered more attention than the multilateral summit itself. That is also because concrete, collective measures by the organization have been few and far in between. With the inclusion of India and Pakistan, it still remains to be seen if the bilateral frictions between member states would preclude more meaningful collaboration at the SCO or whether it would overcome the differences to play an active role in a changing international order.
Premier IK especially focused on the successful completion of CPEC and its benefits for the entire region. He was of the view that CPEC will change the course of development of Central Asian States, Afghanistan, Iran, China and Pakistan. I believe that key to success of Pakistan is in Pakistan-India strong relationship. Pakistan India relationship is as important as that with China. If Pakistan enjoys very good relationship with China but doesn’t cherish with India, it can’t make unprecedented development. Pakistan India balanced relationship and calm movement of vessels in the Gulf will guarantee success of CPEC.