The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is seen as an effective counterweight to western dominance of the global order, is on the verge of playing a stellar role in subtly redefining South Asian geopolitics.
As India and Pakistan move closer to full membership of this strategically critical Eurasian grouping, South Asia — one of the world’s most volatile regions seems to be moving toward achieving lasting tranquility, thanks to the specific requirement of SCO aspirants making positive contribution in maintaining a stable neighborhood for admission into the security grouping.
And this particular clause provides a rare window of opportunity for New Delhi and Islamabad to formalize a unique peace treaty that will radically alter the situation in the region. No doubt, the SCO enables India and Pakistan to sit across the table and have a word on how to normalize a difficult relationship that has been hijacked by the hawks during the tortuous six decades’ history. Since, SCO facilitates extensive diplomatic and security interactions at various levels, the organization can surely become a pivot-point to relieve politico-military tension in South Asia arising out of a deep mistrust, rooted in an acrimonious past. And the very prospect of Indian and Pakistani security personnel engaging in joint drills, where they coordinate on operational details as well as intelligence sharing, may herald dawn of a new era.
Surely, it would be tactically beneficial for both Islamabad and New Delhi to make good use of the SCO platform. After all, the SCO does provide a canopy, to countries with divergent views on critical global issues, beneath which a serious endeavor to harmonize the conflicting approaches through sustained dialogue is realistically possible. As Russian President Vladimir Putin rightly observed, the international environment is complicated and multifaceted and issues are not resolved by the mere fact that countries with different approaches and views on various international challenges join SCO. However, their accession does create conditions for the matters to be resolved amicably, because SCO membership actually opens up a vast diplomatic space for nations to pursue respective geostrategic objectives.
The Indian and Pakistani leadership is therefore well advised to nurture a prosperous and peaceful relation, insulated from ultra-nationalist jingoism. After all, SCO is different from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) whose institutional legitimacy and efficiency were throttled by the bickering neighbors themselves. Besides, the SCO straddling a vital geographic space of economic importance does give both Islamabad and New Delhi enough incentive for forging a fruitful partnership to leverage the available benefits in tune with the “Shanghai Spirit” of mutual trust and benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and above all pursuit of shared development.
Let us not forget that the chill of global economic slowdown will affect every region and nation sooner than later. And the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan bringing a staggering 1,500 million population under SCO’s ambit will not only diversify the economic basket of the grouping but also help the member states and the extended global community to emerge from stagnation.
With SCO’s territorial limit reaching the waters of the Indian Ocean and its presence being felt as far as the edge of the Arabian Gulf, the organization has indeed turned into a paradigm of global and regional cooperation with greater vitality and significant influence. The SCO, serving as a model of efficient cooperation by paying equal attention to economic development and security partnership concurrently, should open up new vistas for New Delhi, particularly because a peaceful neighborhood for at least the next two decades is an essential prerequisite for the fruit of India’s economic reforms to accrue uniformly across the population in the targeted country and beyond. Very rightly, Indian premier Narendra Modi has wasted no time in putting his personal imprimatur on India’s SCO foray. In fact, Modi has been forced to walk a tricky tightrope on diplomacy by tactfully balancing India’s delicate relationship with Moscow, Beijing and Washington simultaneously, without offending anyone. With a new Cold War simmering, New Delhi must take the lead to enhance regional connectivity in the Indian subcontinent by fostering infrastructural development apart from strengthening energy security through collaborative diplomatic initiatives in international forum and Nuclear Suppliers Group. The sooner India’s strategic planners realize the fallacy of belittling Pakistan anywhere and everywhere and putting up stumbling blocks on the road to cooperative partnership, the better it is for South Asia.