The Shingahi Cooperation Organisation
CRITICIZING our young Foreign Minister’s performance at the Shanghai Cooperation Conference, is criticism for the sake of Criticism, without holding any substance. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s detractors mostly leaders from PTI, criticize the Foreign Minister for not availing an opportunity of meeting the Indian Foreign Minister for bilateral talks about Kashmir. Another objection is that Minister Bhutto did not take up the atrocities committed by the Indian forces on the Kashmiri people, as forcefully as he should have.
In my opinion, both these allegations are not based on facts. Firstly, the Shanghai Conference was a multi-lateral meeting and not a bilateral one usually controversial and emotional bilateral issues are avoided at such forums. But even then Bilawal Bhutto, in response to Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishanker, who said “There can be no justification for terrorism and it must be stopped in all its forms and manifestations including cross border terrorism; said that Weaponization of terrorism: “for diplomatic point scoring” must be stopped. Before examining the criticism on Mr. Bhutto in more detail, I think a brief background and enormous potential of Shanghai Cooperation Organization must be dilated upon.
As a very influential multi-national conference, having very powerful members like China and Russia, Pakistan’s participation in the SCO, even if it was held in India, had great potential advantages. The government’s decision to send its FM was certainly better than to leave the meeting unrepresented. The SCO held its Foreign Minister level meeting in Goa, India from May 4-5. The SCO is in an eight-member inter-governmental regional organization headquartered in Beijing China. India assumed the rotating presidency of the SCO at the 2022 Summit held in Uzbekistan. India’s External Affairs Minister Jaishanker is currently the Chair of the SCO Council of Foreign Ministers.
Our Foreign office while defending the participation of our FM, said: “our participation in the meeting reflects Pakistan’s commitment to the SCO Charter and Processes and the importance that Pakistan accords to the region in its foreign policy priorities”. This was the first time a Pakistani Foreign Minister visited India since 2016. Since then, bilateral relations have remained strained due to divergent positions on various issues, especially Jammu and Kashmir.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization is the largest regional organization, in terms of its geographical spread. It contains about 60% Eurasian landmass which contains 40% of world population contributing about 30% of global GDP. China while sharing security concerns, joined hands with Russia and three Central Asian Countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in terms of establishing the Shanghai five group in 1996. In the Almaty Declaration made in 1998, it was agreed that Shanghai five would extend cooperation to combat ethnic separatism, religious fundamentalism, international terrorism arms smuggling and other criminal activities.
In 2001, with the inclusion of Uzbekistan as the sixth member of the Shanghai five transitioned into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In 2005 India, Pakistan and Iran were given the observer status. Since its establishment in 2001, the SCO has attracted a significant amount of attention due to its solid organizational capacity to deliberate and resolve issues through cooperation.
Shanghai five to further promote regional security and politics and economic cooperation, was expanded with the addition of India and Pakistan as full members in 2017. SCO has currently got four observers including Afghanistan and Nine dialogue partners including Saudi-Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. In addition United Nations organization UNO, Common Wealth of Independent States (CIS), ASEAN and Turkmenistan attended as guests. Many other important countries are willing to cooperate with the SCO. Iran will soon became a full member.
Over the years the SCO has provided the two arch-rivals India and Pakistan with an important platform to interact and generate the very important element of trust. Opportunities are given to the two nemesis for regional economic consideration and growth. Being two large and important members of the SCO, the two states have interacted with each other in terms of joint military exercises and discussions on ideas for regional development like mitigating the effects of covid-19 in recent years. Efforts have also been made by the two countries through SCO to offset climate catastrophes. These may be small, but are surely important steps for the two antagonistic nuclear powers, made through SCO.
Returning to the critic’s views of doubting the efficacy of sending our Foreign Minister to the regional moot. A very powerful and effective case can be built in favor of this auspicious decision. Being an important member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as well as other regional and international organizations, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto has communicated Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives quite candidly both regionally and internationally.
By attending the SCO session, Pakistan has on the one hand, highlighted its role as a responsible member of the origination and on the other, as a leading Muslim country with strategic relations with China, whose diplomatic stock is on the rise in trans-regional affairs. The Saudi-Iran detente is a clear example. Pakistan also got an opportunity to share a platform with other key members of the organization including Russia. The Pakistani foreign minister had an elaborate meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister to pursue Pakistan’s need for energy, which Russia is willing to provide. Talks on bilateral trade also took place.
Pakistan also took up the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where more than half of the population is facing the threat of starvation. Regional cooperation can hardly be realized unless basic requirement of member states is met. It was because of the efforts of our youthful Foreign Minister, that quick on the heels of the SCO conference, the Afghan and the Chinese Foreign Ministers visited Pakistan. Beside taking stock of Afghan needs, both China and Pakistan entreated with Afghanistan to reign in militants of East Turkestan Movement and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). China also offered Afghanistan to become part of OPEC. This Development alone will open up tremendous opportunities of connectivity and trade with Central Asian countries and beyond.
Although the SCO moot was not of a bilateral nature, as pointed out before. But Foreign Minister while speaking to Pakistani community made it clear that for talks to take place with India, India must first revert to the pre-2019 position on Kashmir. Mr Bhutto also made it clear that Pakistan was against India’s decision to convene the G-20 leaders’ summit in Srinagar as it is not only arrogant but also against international law. I am sure our Foreign Minister will bring up the issue on all world forums so that the world does not forget what India is doing to Muslims of Kashmir.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.
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