The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, initially, the Shanghai Five was created by China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan in 1996 with the aim to resolve the border disputes among its member states. Later on, Uzbekistan was also granted full membership in 2001 and the Organization was named as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The Organization promotes and beholds the objectives for creating an environment of mutual respect, trust and friendly ties with neighboring and member states based on enhanced support for the progressive cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, education, scientific technology, power, communication, energy and environmental protection issues.
The collapse of the Soviet Union gave birth to a new world order based on a unipolar system under the U.S supremacy influencing almost all the major fields of the international affairs. During the Cold War era, the world was mainly divided into two major blocs having their respective military alliance frameworks where each side had a number of allied states under their command; these military alliances were based on the commitments and arrangements for the collective security of all the member states and the defensive and offensive modes by all the member states even for the attainment of respective national interest goals of any single member state. Similarly, the member states of the U.S led NATO collectively struggled to check the further expansion of the Communism to Europe and other parts of the world.
Polarity is a theoretical construct; real international systems only approximate ideal types. The concept of unipolarity implies a threshold value in the distribution of capabilities among states. How do we know whether a system has passed the threshold, becoming unipolar? It happens when a unipolar international system contains one state whose share of capabilities places it in a class by itself compared to all other states. This definition reflects the fact that a state’s capabilities are measured not on an absolute scale but relative to those of other states. In keeping with this definition, a unipolar state is preponderant in all relevant categories of capability. In a narrow but also frequently used, criterion, a system is unipolar if it has only one state capable of organizing major politico-military action anywhere in the system. After the dismemberment of Soviet led WARSAW PACT, the challenging of the US supremacy was a natural factor due to the US designs to dominate the former parts of Soviet Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States of Central Asia (CIS) by granting them membership of NATO. Hence unable to counter the threat alone, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was created as a power balancer to prevent the US dominance over the Russian sphere of influence. Still it was insufficient on its part because the members of the CSTO were not that militarily or politically strong, to counter balance the NATO States.
During the Cold War era, the collective security alliances like Warsaw Pact under the Soviet and the U.S led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were the organizations which aimed to collectively respond the other side in case of any aggression. The basic principle behind the creation of organizations was to prevent the other side from any kind of military, political, diplomatic and economic hegemony which may turn the other side to dominate the global affairs single handedly and by that way, the concept of balance of power flourished where each side tried to maximize its power through the means of maximum number of allied states committed to collectively check the growth of other side to their sphere of influence and respond accordingly. Even in recent time, the great power seek option to further enhance their spheres of influence and such moves close to the theories of neo-colonialism have urged the global political system to gradually keep moving towards a new Cold War. Such stereotype thinking resulted in an ever growth in the number of Organization like the NATO, EU, SCO, ASEAN, CIS, BRICS, etc.
SCO as a major player in the region
The increasing engagement of the US and allies in the Asian region are perceived as serious threats to Russia and China. Particularly, the recent development in the aftermath of Crimea crisis between Russia and the West and the prevalent perception of encirclement of China by the NATO forces are some of the pushing forces to look beyond the economic gains and counter the challenges existing next door. This situation of competition is created among the states when they found their interests on stake each challenging the other to gain the national policy objectives on each other’s expanse. In some cases when the states find it difficult to pursue the policy objectives individually, due to intensity competition among states. In such a scenario, the states’ immediate approach becomes to align themselves with the other states to form a common alliance. These alliances can be of different kinds i.e.; economic alliances like E.U., ASEAN, OIC and, military alliances like as NATO, WARSAW PACT and regional alliances like SAARC etc. The member states of these alliances thus share some common interests which binds them for collective effort; ultimately all aimed at balancing the power equilibrium against other competing powers so that no single country becomes able to dominate the global or regional military and political scenario
In global political system states generally create a balance against each others’ powers, when two great powers equally maintain the equilibrium called bipolarity where both exercise equal status of power in international affairs and when many states succeed to maintain the status-quo it is called a multi-polarity where each posses a particular sphere of influence and in general sense at the international level as well. The bipolarity or multi-polarity is not only limited within the concepts of competition for between two states but all the member states of an alliance as a whole maintain the balance of power equilibrium against the opposite side.
The Shanghai Co-operation Organization also faces some challenges side by side to the opportunities. Russia envisions several dimensions to the future of SCO; these include strengthening the major functional areas of the cooperation along with expansion of the organization in the form of new partnerships. Although Russian hopes to enlarge the scope of SCO organization by expanding its membership list yet the prospective of potential candidate states agreeing to the offer does not seem much positive. Members of the SCO had agreed on the fact that there is a need to pause the process of enlargement of the SCO but some Russian experts having completely opposite views voted against it. Anatoly Torkunov, rector Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University) stated that SCO would be more effective if it if it was identified as a representative of the whole Asian Pacific Region rather than being isolated to the representation of Central Asia alone. This could be accomplished by including new stated in SCO. However, the full membership of Pakistan and India raised two issues for Russia and the SCO. Firstly, both the countries in spite of being nuclear weapon states are non-signatories of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT) which is a clear contradiction of the primary requirements for the being a member state of SCO.
Prospects of India-Pakistan Relations as permanent members of SCO
For Pakistan and India, the period after its inception was the marker of the direction of its foreign policy. The society under the rule British Raj was greatly influence by the Western thoughts and the way of conducting state affairs in the likely style. The unlucky movement after one year of their partition, the India and Pakistan fought a war in 1948 involved the both states in an unending arms race and their involvement with various regional and international alliances and forums in order to meet their economic and military needs.
During the initial period of their status of observer states at the SCO, the main concern for about the full membership of India and Pakistan was that it would cause further trouble to the organization due to their prolonged hostility that is existent right from their inception, despite the SCO powers Russia supported the Indian membership so the China to Pakistan but their entrance in SCO as permanent members was always a gloomy reality that it would create a de-fragmentation within the organization and a divide as two different groups one led by the China and the other by Russia and ultimately it would become an impression of an organization within organization that yield in a weak institutionalized organization diverted from its main agenda to counter-weight the extra-regional powers and ultimately the SCO would become a less effective organization having very low significance and benefits for the member states.
Moreover, the closely observing analysts of the SCO believed that the acceptance of India and Pakistan as permanent members would disrupt the current internal political arena and will also affect the relations of other members with the rest of the world particularly, the countries that are being urged by the international community to abide by the regulations of the NPT. Secondly, the main cause of tension and a bone of the contention, the issue of Kashmir between India and Pakistan would always remain a direct variant to affect the consensus of the member on any particular issue related to bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, which is not the kind of message SCO wants to portray in front of the outside world.
Similarly, the case of Iran for the grant of permanent membership has always remained a controversial topic. Iran is viewed a potential nuclear state by the international community and hence would provoke the USA to further obstruct the organization’s work. This is why the Iranian membership in the SCO being considered controversial although, Russia is already linked with Tehran for trade purposes and the SCO members can also largely benefit from Iran’s huge energy resources but ultimately the acceptance of Iran as a member state of SCO would only involve severe risk of inviting diplomatic isolation of the organization. Moreover, such controversy at this point would not be benign for the further development of organization into a real balancing power bloc for SCO still needs certain improvement in various grounds. In case of Iran’s full membership of SCO in near future despite of its ambiguous nuclear program which is a pinching point between US and Iran relations, but it would also pose e direct threat other non- member states of NATO.
China’s growing ties or energy trade with Iran and Pakistan is one of the other reasons that Russia does not want Iran and Pakistan to join the SCO group. China is in the process of exploring the opportunity of importing gas through pipeline from Iran and Turkmenistan, with Iran. According to China’s view, this gas would be delivered across Pakistan and Afghanistan via a pipeline. Therefore, it is very much clear that Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, would most certainly oppose any such route plan. Russia would definitely try to restrict the options of China of buying gas from Turkmenistan or increase its pipeline capabilities to gain access of gas resources in Central Asia. These concerns are the basis of Russia’s negativity towards full membership of Iran and Pakistan with the SCO and according to many analysts cooperation over energy supplies is precisely the reason why China wants these two states to be members of the SCO.
SCO and the Implications of bilateral Relationship of India and Pakistan
Although the SCO’s Council of the Heads of States has accepted the proposal for the grant of full membership to Pakistan and India in the Organization and it is also hoped that by the start of 2016 these two states would gain permanent membership after completing certain documentary requirements. The two states were observer states of the SCO since 2004 and had been trying to get the permanent membership but the main hurdle between the grant of membership always remained the concern about Pakistan and India’s hostility towards each other. Despite of the fact, the hostility will definitely prevail after becoming permanent members but the thing which is being perceived as a ray of hope that both the states will get a platform to resolve their bilateral issues effectively.
The basic tenets of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization abide its members to refrain from the interference in other’s internal matters and preserve their self-respect, sovereignty and to encourage the creation of an environment based on cooperation in their region and neighborhood. The Organization is further ambitious in promoting the enhanced support for the economic, cultural, scientific, environmental, communication and educational cooperation. Despite of all these factors, the Organization has never came out of its ambiguous nature that whether it’s going to become a permanent military alliance to counter the Western bloc or it will only remain a regional economic forum. The ambiguity is because of the creation of Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) that has a remarkable number of quick response forces and the members of SCO often conduct collective military and naval drills and demonstrate the military and naval power effectively.
Moreover, it is strongly going to become a time of test of the significance of the SCO as an effective player to bridge the gap between India and Pakistan through a series of diplomatic moves that would urge both parties to bring an end to the historical disputes and hostility between the two neighboring states. Such success at the part of SCO would be historical landmark on its credit and would encourage many others to consult the Organization for their issues and this will ultimately make the SCO an ever effective player next to the UNO in the international political arena.
Apart from the issues of discord between India and Pakistan, the Organization will bring immense economic and trade opportunities for the both as the dominant powers of the SCO i.e. China and Russia are huge industrial and economic hubs and at the other hand the other Central Asian members are immensely rich with their oil and natural gas resources that are more than enough for energy starved nations like China, India and Pakistan.
Role of dominant SCO powers in bringing-up peace and progress in the region
SCO has not only helped in establishing regional calm and stability but has also been successful in controlling conflicts from spreading to other regions. Central Asia, Balkans and the Middle East share a history of complex conflict ranging from religious to ethnic nature. But the formation of SCO in Central Asia portrayed a much better image of it as compared to the Balkans and the Middle East. The presence of SCO played an important role in preventing the Afghan civil war from spreading into Central Asia. By doing so SCO managed to develop a successful example for the rest of the international community struggling with post Cold war conditions. It would not be wrong to say that had ‘Shanghai Five-SCO’ not been present in Central Asia the Afghan war would have most certainly spread to its neighboring countries. This depicts how the SCO is acting to maintain the security and stability.
In the light of these achievements, it can be said that SCO has played an integral part in maintaining the regional calm and stability of its member states. Addressing the Afghanistan which is also one the urgent defence and foreign policy issue faced by the Obama administration, the SCO’s claims of the failure of US strategy and their growing demands to new government for setting-up a final time frame to call back NATO troops from Afghanistan. The current situation is completely against the US and its allies’ troops that are badly stuck in Afghanistan and the further announcement of sending more troops to the country has raised many questions for the SCO members and other world as well.
In a very short period of less than a decade, the SCO has established itself as a global security mechanism. Successfully being able to marginalize the Western and American influence in the Central Asian region therefore, most of times the SCO has been termed as NATO of the East and a counter-weight by Russia and China to challenge the United States and allies presence in the region. It is also believed, that the Sino- Russian interests will shape the future of whole region and more especially of oil and natural gas rich Central Asia.
Future Perspectives: challenges and opportunities for the Region
The phenomenon of continuous shift in power among the major players of the world, the face of international relations keeps changing respectively. Given that, it is important that our understanding of the world we live in should also evolve accordingly, and we are not stuck with a worldview that has no relevance with the evolving realities of a world in transition. Global politics is always characterized with three tendencies; namely, cooperation, competition and conflict.
The world affairs are integrative and disintegrative processes are always at continued development where there are factors contributing to peace and issues leading to war. There is always hectic competition going on among major players of the world. Sometime, this competition causes conflict. Some time, it leads to peace. All depending mainly upon the great powers relations with one another, the present state of relations cause any shift or smoothness of inter-state relations. In international relations the future of any state-to-state relations is completely unpredictable, but the present course of any activity can at least reflect the possible outcome of their possible action. Thus, certain degree of caution needs to be taken while comparing the SCO with any of the organizations in the West for economic and security cooperation in the near future. It is believed when two for the coming future time. It is believed when two friendly states having interest in the same thing, it naturally creates a sense of competition and to some extent makes them hostile to one another. Especially while looking into the history of international relations, most of times it has been seen when ever two states have been struggling to pursue a common thing as a issue of their vital national interests they ultimately became rivals, as it was in the case of Soviet Union and US in the post world war II era their vital interests, turned their alliance into confrontation and hostility and finally resulted a prolonged Cold War involving the whole world. The current state of SCO and NATO relations is alarming for a change of global political system with a forecast of a new emerging global bipolar political structure. The SCO’s demand for a new world order not merely based on the US dominance over world affairs and other institutions, the economic one is not an exception which brings a growing clash of interests between the SCO and NATO member states. The SCO poses serious challenges to other organizations in various grounds that are not only for NATO but also for the European Union; the SCO’s economic strength is also one of turning factor in the present global structure.
The grant of permanent membership to India and Pakistan by SCO’s Council of Heads of States would give an impetus and a distinguished role of these two states in the international affairs. These two states would also get access to enormous economic, political, military and other opportunities. Though the membership in the SCO brings opportunities at one hand but at the other it will open a new Pandora’s Box for the India and Pakistan due to the fact that the SCO is believed to be a counterweighted to the NATO and sometimes it is also called a NATO of the East because of its military designs and the drills that would pave the way for the transformation into a permanent military alliance, will generate the sense of competition and an opposition towards the most of European nation and the American.
For Pakistan and India, there already exists a regional forum like SAARC that has hardly effectively managed the crises between the two states. The less effective role of the SAAR is because the India and Pakistan are never accommodated any accord of the regional organization. Apart from the fact that SCO has immense economic and development opportunities but a futuristic role that is not more than the SAARC would hardly extend SCO’s importance in the regional and international affairs. Even after becoming permanent members of the Organization, the upshot cannot be expected that positive but definitely it would only affect the current prevalent status of the Organization and would only drag it towards an unending divide.