Pakistan and India’s Membership in SCO: Implications for Bilateral Cooperation

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Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental organization of eight regional countries i.e., China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India. The two subcontinental states became members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2017. The inclusion of Pakistan and India contributed toward qualitatively strengthening the Organization in terms of broadening its scope. That said, this article focuses on the significance of territorial disputes among regional countries in determining the success/failure of SCO. It also looks into SCO goals, and declarations through the prism of liberal paradigm. The liberal school of thought suggests that if interests of the members of an institution are similar to one another, the institution may help them cooperate with one another and help achieve some degree of peace and security in the shared region. Moreover, in the age of globalization, issues are not limited to a single nation; they are transnational in nature, and therefore, need regional and international responses, that increases the importance of regional and international organizations. However, SCO is also seen as an organization of rivals that have more often than not competing interests in the Eurasian region. Although all the member states of SCO may agree on the basic objectives of the organization, that is, countering the three evils of extremism, terrorism and separatism, yet their interpretation of these threats may be different, if not contrary to each other. Moreover, bilateral disputes among some of the member states are not discussed, let alone resolved, in the SCO setup. Therefore, the principles that the charter of this Organization promotes, i.e. mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states are highly laudable objectives. However, they are difficult to follow in the real world, where states tend to have competing interests. It would be interesting to see how SCO plays its role in resolving the issues of separatism and territorial disputes after the inclusion of Pakistan and India, who invariably blame each other of undermining security.
Various incidents of terrorism in India, in particular, the 2008-Mumbai attacks, have provided New Delhi to project Islamabad as sponsors of the cross-border terrorist attacks. The allegations have never been proven though in any court of law, and India, according to Pakistani authorities, has refused to cooperate on investigations of the incident. After becoming a member of SCO, India may hope to get Kashmir issue recognized as a terrorist activity. As has been the case in the Sino- Indian history of dialogues over disputed territories, both the countries may at some point of time in the future agree with the status quo in India’s north-western (Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, etc.) and the north-eastern borders (Arunachal Pradesh) abutting China.
India may take advantage of SCO platform to undermine the position of Pakistan on terrorism and the Jammu and Kashmir issue. However, Pakistan has successfully dealt with the menace of terrorism on its own territory, but it continues to face the challenge of cross-border terrorism as well as the support that Balochi insurgents receive through the western border from Indian intelligence agencies working there. It is no empty propaganda. One of India’s serving senior naval officers, Kulbhushan Yadav, is in Pakistan’s custody who confessed to Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) involvement in terrorism across Pakistan and fomenting insurgency in Balochistan province in particular. Moreover, the presence of some of the fugitive elements of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic State in Afghanistan pose threats to Pakistan and the whole region in general.
Thus, it is in great interest of Islamabad to seek cooperation of the regional countries at the SCO forum in tackling the threat of cross-border terrorism. The participation of the regional countries in the annual military drills is a right step toward sharing each other’s counter-terrorism tactics, strategies and experiences. As regards the Kashmir issue, it is not Islamabad alone that is pointing out India’s state oppression against the Kashmiri freedom fighters. The United Nations Human Rights Commission’s report in 2018 about New Delhi’s tactics in Kashmir28 also reveal crimes Indian military is committing in suppressing the legitimate freedom struggle of the Kashmiris. Islamabad can raise its voice in SCO meetings, as it does in the United Nations,29 against Indian oppression of Kashmiris. Pakistan also works with Russia, China, Central Asian republics, besides Iran and Afghanistan in countering the religious militancy and the threat of terrorism by the Islamic State. Thus, by joining SCO, Pakistan can contribute substantially toward securing peace and stability in the Eurasian region Pakistan’s and India’s membership of SCO has indeed widened the scope of the Organization in countering transnational terrorism, separatism and extremism, and tackling the other regional challenges of climate change and human development. It also has the potential to expand economic cooperation among the regional countries. This article, however, proposed that member states need to match goals and principles of SCO with the nature of bilateral relations among the member states. Though institutional liberals rightly state that the regional institutions promote harmony of interest and expand cooperation among neighbour countries, this premise has limitations. SCO is considered by many analysts as a grouping of rival states with competing ideologies and ambitions. Pakistan and India have their own set of motivations, often competing, with regard to joining the SCO. As for the territorial disputes, though the Charter claims that the member states would adhere to the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, the incessant border skirmishes between India and Pakistan along the LoC, suggest the practice does not conform to set standards. While the claim by the (neo)functionalist theorists of liberal school of thought holds ground that economic interdependence generates cooperation and leads to peace, the premise flounders in the case of Pakistan and India. The history suggests, the nature of leadership in both New Delhi and Islamabad, the economic strength of Pakistan and the level of legitimacy its government enjoys, and equally importantly, the importance of Pakistan in the shifting global political order would play a more significant role in encouraging India to hold dialogue with Pakistan on all outstanding issues.

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