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The implications of Pakistan and India’s permanent membership of the SCO

Maria Amjad

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he next Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2017, when India and Pakistan are likely to become full members of the organization.

Though the memorandum on the obligations for India and Pakistan to hold membership of the SCO was signed at the SCO Tashkent summit in 2016 but the official declaration was made on 14th March 2017 during the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s regular press conference in Beijing. Prior to this, on 13th March, the Secretary-General of the organization Rashid Alimov, also posted on Sina Weibo about the expansion plan of SCO in coming June. Although it is expected that permanent membership of the SCO will help bolster mutual trust and improve relations between Pakistan and India, which in yield would be beneficial for the regional prosperity and development, however, the expansion will also have some serious implications for the existing members and SCO itself which need to be examined.

In the West-dominated world order, the Eurasian bloc has always tried to establish “balance of power” through the expansion of regional organizations and the emergence of SCO was the outcome of one of these attempts. The organization, originally named as Shanghai-Five, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. However, after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, it was renamed to its current name.

The primary objective behind the formation of the Shanghai-Five was to “peacefully resolve the boundary dispute, which existed among China and the five countries and to ensure stability along the borders”. Once the borders were worked out more or less along the agreed upon lines, the member countries started to maneuver along the expansion of the organization in terms of its membership and execution. Currently the goals of the organization are to (i) strengthen relations among member states; (ii) promote cooperation in political affairs, economics, trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection; (iv) safeguard regional peace, security, and stability; and (v) create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order.

For Pakistan, the proclamation of the full membership of the SCO has come at the time when the country is already seeking to forge trade links with Central Asian countries. The permanent membership will foster deeper socio-economic connectivity between Pakistan and Central Asia, inviting the business community of both sides to invest in each other’s agriculture, mining, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing sectors. Furthermore, it could open doors for Pakistan’s moribund energy sector to avail cheap power supply schemes from Kyrgyzstan, a country that has significantly ramped up its energy sector as a consequence of the two-decade development of its large hydroelectric power resources. Moreover, the area is plentiful with the natural gas resources, a readiness that could also be savored by Pakistan in future.

SCO expansion and Pakistan’s inclusion in the organization will prove beneficial for these Central Asian members as well. Most of these central Asian countries are landlocked, but they could convert their perceived disadvantage of being landlocked into an asset by constructing a web and network of roads, railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing from East to West and North to South to connect industrial and production hubs with consumer markets. With Pakistan already having Karachi as its major port can act as a “zipper” for the region, allowing these countries to use its ports and territory for such purpose. Furthermore, under the project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is building Gwadar as the next important port city in the region. The port is located near key oil shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf, thus it will provide closest access to the sea to Central Asian Republics for oil and other imports. The project also targets to construct the network of roads and rail to carry goods from the Persian Gulf to China and Europe through Silk Route. Therefore, there could be a mutual agreement between Pakistan and these Central Asian countries to expand this economic network of rail and road tracks in Central Asia, in order to ensure the smooth transit of goods across these countries and to provide the economic channel for the scientific-technical, educational and cultural exchanges. And what not. With Pakistan’s vast experience in the context, new measures and joint ventures could also be taken for countering violent extremism in the region.

From India’s perspective, SCO membership would open a new opportunity to reconnect with Eurasia after a century of disruption. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the SCO-BRICS Summit 2015 that membership of SCO would be “a natural extension of India’s ties with member countries.”

SCO could offer India with some unique opportunities to get constructively engaged with Eurasia to address shared security concerns, particularly for combating terrorism and containing threats posed by ISIS and the Taliban. India could also benefit from stepping up cooperation, especially by tapping into the existing SCO processes such as the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) that shares key information and intelligence on the movements of terrorists and drug-trafficking. Likewise, participation in the SCO’s counter-terror exercises and annually conducted military drills could benefit Indian armed forces to understand the operational tactics of other militaries which could also instill greater confidence at the regional level.

Importantly, the rapidly growing India is one of the biggest energy-consuming countries in the world. The Central Asian region possesses large resources of oil and natural gas reserves. Therefore, once the SCO membership is under the belt, India would seek the gateway to Central Asia’s humongous energy fields. Moreover, at times when India is seeking for a permanent seat in the United Nations (UN), it is important to strengthen its historical and regional links with the Eurasian countries.

For SCO, roping in India and Pakistan adds fresh vitality, providing greater voice and status to the grouping, which has hitherto remained China-centric previously. After Pakistan and India inclusion, SCO has now become one of the biggest organizations in the world that is a voice of half of the population of the world.

Now let’s consider the other side of the coin as well. Was the accession of membership of both Pakistan and India at the same time coincidental or consequential?

Well, the sources say that Russia traditionally pushed India’s case for full membership. As India’s entry to the SCO in 2017 would lead to even “closer Russian-Indian cooperation”, opening gates for collaboration in civil nuclear energy, partnership in the natural gas, petrochemicals sector and liaison in the space sector. The Russian decision to back India was also supported by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan who have close ties with India. Now China, being the most influential member of the organization, felt being cornered because of the inclusion of India and the growing proximity between India, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Thus, China started supporting Pakistan’s entry into the SCO as a “balancer” against the weight of Russia and its allies-India, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Does this mean that Pakistan and India permanent membership is going to bifurcate the SCO into groups?

Keeping Pakistan and India refractory relations in mind, it does seem like that both the countries will find a new platform to blather banal allegations over each other just like they recently did in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 34th regular session in February 2017. Therefore, the quirky relations between Pakistan and India could shift to the SCO platform. As the hostilities between the two countries have always had a Central Asian dimension. On one hand, India is building its relations with Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to import petroleum, natural gas, and uranium from the region. On the other hand, Pakistan is working with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan on the CASA-1000 Project to transmit electricity from Central Asia to South Asia. Moreover, through Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA), Pakistan is setting a deal with Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, China and Kazakhstan to facilitate the transportation of goods and flow of traffic from Central Asia to South Asia and China. Consequently, both countries view Central Asia as a strategic clamp with which to exert pressure on each other from the rear. Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, have also described the entry of India and Pakistan to the organization as “time bomb.”

Alexander Gabuev, head of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Region program of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has also impugned the expansion of SCO by saying: “The SCO is changing quantitatively but not qualitatively. Its population, territory, and share of global GDP are increasing, but the main problem is that this regional organization lacks a specific function to deliver something tangible”. He believes that the “New countries are seeking to join not because of the great prospects, but for fear of falling behind the powers of continental Eurasia already inside. That is the main motivation for India and Pakistan to join the SCO as well”

Furthermore, it could also dilute the organization member’s already meager powers. That is precisely the reason that there was news last year that the existing Central Asian members will block the entry of India and Pakistan in the organization. But their approbation to the expansion of the SCO has scotched all the rumors. However, the risk that the inclusion of India and Pakistan will take the spotlight away from Central Asia and other more urgent matters remains. This may also result in the alteration of the initial structure and concept of the organization, after which Central Asia will find it harder to advance its own positions and to cooperate on regional issues.

So, what is to be done now?

India and Pakistan should take a cooperative position in the organization if they want to genuinely exploit opportunities that SCO membership may offer. Both countries should certainly join SCO with a fresh mind without any ambiguity. Also, China and Russia will now have to accept to run a mature role to make sure both Pakistan and India comply with the norms of SCO and do not demur the organization’s original purpose and role. Furthermore, all the existing and new members should work to recast the organization as a more comprehensive regional forum. There is a need to regulate the organization as a vehicle for any kind of substantive regional integration or cooperative problem solving rather than making it an emblematic club of like-minded members who do nothing except talk about how much population, land and global GDP they control.

Maria Amjad has graduated from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Lahore, Pakistan, with a Political Science degree. Her interests include the history and politics of the South Asian region with a particular interest in India-Pakistan relations. The writer can be reached at mariaamjad309[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse

Haris Bilal Malik

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The Kashmir issue has more significance in view of the nuclearization of South Asia as many security experts around the world consider Kashmir a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan. The revocation of the special constitutional status of Kashmir by the BJP government on August 5, 2019, also referred to as Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act 2019 and the subsequent lockdown in Kashmir has since considerably increased political and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan. India’s recent moves and actions in Kashmir have once again internationalized the Kashmir dispute. This was evident during the UN General Assembly’s 74th Session, where the Kashmir issue remained a crucial agenda item for several countries.

During this year’s session prominent leaders of the world condemned Indian brutalities in Kashmir. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the international community for failing to pay attention to the Kashmir conflict and called for dialogue to end this dispute. Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that Kashmir “has been invaded and occupied” by India despite the UN resolution on the issue. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed the issue and called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute based on the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions. Based on the grave importance of Kashmir as a potential ‘nuclear flashpoint’ between India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the UNGA warned the world community about the dangers of a nuclear war that according to him might break out over Kashmir due to Indian atrocities. The current situation appears to be the most critical time for both the countries and the region as both countries are nuclear-armed.

However, unfortunately, the Indian leaders and media perceived Prime Minister Imran Khan’s warning as a nuclear threat and termed it as ‘brinkmanship’. Contrary to this perspective, it is worth mentioning here that the Indian leadership itself is involved in negative nuclear signaling and war hysteria against Pakistan in recent months. For instance, the 2019 Indian General Election campaign of Prime Minister Modi was largely based on negative nuclear signaling comprising of several threats referring to the possible use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan. Furthermore, as an apparent shift from India’s ‘No First Use’ (NFU) policy, on August 16, 2019Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while on a visit to the Pokhran nuclear test site paid tribute to the late former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and asserted that India might review its NFU policy. He stated that a change in future circumstances would likely define the status of India’s NFU policy. Since then there is no official denial of this assertion from India which indicates that India might abandon its NFU policy.

Moreover, India’s offensive missile development programs and its growing nuclear arsenal which include; hypersonic missiles, ballistic missile defence systems, enhanced space capabilities for intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance and the induction of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-capable submarines clearly indicate that India’s nuclear weapons modernization is aimed at continuously enhancing its deterrence framework including its second-strike capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. This is also evident from India’s military preparations under its more recent doctrines such as the 2017 Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces (JDIAF) and the 2018 Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD)which are also based upon more proactive offensive strategies and indirect threats of pre-emptive strikes against Pakistan.

As evident from the above-mentioned developments, it seems likely that India aspires to increasingly project itself as a regional hegemon and a potential superpower. The BJP government under Prime Minister Modi inspired by the Hindutva ideology is taking offensive measures under the notions of ‘a more Muscular or Modern India’ based on strong military preparedness. In such circumstances, Pakistan’s threat perception would likely remain increasingly inclined towards its eastern border. Pakistan due to its economic constraints would also likely face considerable difficulties in competing with India toe to toe with respect to its military modernization plans. Pakistan is already punching well above its weight, and nuclear deterrence would be the only way through which Pakistan can maintain a precise balance of power to preserve its security. This could only be carried out by deterring India with the employment of both minimum credible deterrence and full-spectrum deterrence capabilities. This posture clearly asserts that since Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are for defensive purposes in principle, they are aimed at deterring India from any and all kinds of aggression.

Hence, at the present India’s forceful annexation of occupied Kashmir and the resultant nuclear discourse at the UNGA has further intensified Pakistan-India tensions. Under present circumstances, the situation could easily trigger another politico-military escalation between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has bet his political reputation on his move to annex the region and his political career is on the line. The same way Pakistan’s politico-military establishment is equally unlikely back down from its stance on Kashmir. It would be difficult for both countries to come down from the escalation ladder because politico-military reputations would be at stake at both ends. Consequently, Pakistan might be forced to take action before India’s modernization plans get ahead and might respond even sooner.

The nuclear discourse in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s speech against the backdrop of the Kashmir crisis at such a high forum like UNGA would likely keep the issue internationalized. The situation demands the UN fulfill its responsibility of ensuring peace and to prevent billions of people from the dangers of a nuclear war. However, Indian blame game, aggressive behavior and offensive nuclear signaling against Pakistan all present a clear warning of nuclear war. It would greatly limit the prospects for international mediation especially by the United Nations whose resolutions on Kashmir clearly provide a right of self-determination to decide Kashmir’s future.  

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1.2 trillion rupees on the move: Modi’s greatest piece of purchase yet

Sisir Devkota

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Last week, the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) was taken aback by more than a surprise. Just when it was dealing with the uncomfortable series of events that led to the transfer of surplus 1.2 trillion rupees into the government of India; social media erupted. It quickly realized that losing the battle regarding the transfer would only add fuel to the hoax of closing down nine commercial banks. RBI enjoys considerable amount of autonomy and independence in the largest democracy, and still, it had to kneel down to Modi’s alleged quick fix.

The RBI would have to vouch for the government in times of need, it is primarily what is expected of the institution; but there was a great deal of discomfort in how the government justified it. A committee set up under the ex-governor, Mr Bimal Jalan, cited how central banks would not need so much of surplus to carry out their affairs. Effectively, it was an order, not a request, which became the underlying discomfort behind RBI’s hesitancy in adhering to the views of capital transfer committee. Not that anyone expected the central lender to protest longer, it did however, request Mr Jalan to reconsider the decision at the face of various consequences. To say the least, it was embarrassing for a premier financial institution to be put under the public eye. The social media hoax was another ridicule of the sickly RBI. In the tales of grand conquests, the victorious army steals the wealth from the losing party. Similarly, the BJP led government in India are redefining all forms of state tools in favour of their interests.

Stolen wealth is most often than not used to correct economic blunders. Just like in the tales of grand conquests, the decision to transfer national wealth from the reserve bank is nothing new. It is nevertheless baffling, that the money transfer is looping in the same direction. While the BJP government in India were imposing a comprehensive GST (Goods and Service Tax) policy, they would not have anticipated complaints from large industries over decreased consumer consumption. For a party that is now known to redefine the legitimacy of governance, falling prey to NBFC’s (Non-bank Financial Companies) incompetence or bankruptcy is a visible defeat. Unlike many other soaring economies, there are large group of subsidiary lenders operating in India. On hindsight, economic policies are barely creating tunnels through which the capital is getting recycled in the same loop. Revenues are not generating further revenues. It is merely closing down on its self-inflicted gap.

The Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) almost played with fire. Uncharacteristically, it proposed a framework to work together with the RBI in order to claim outstanding defaults from high value clients. The RBI was never going to agree with a defaming offer as such but the incident did fuel the argument of capital shuffling. It only makes the bluff look more real. A strategic plan to counter all measures that would have blocked the transfer of trillions. As Mr Jalan sheepishly implied how the importance of central bank and what is does is only limited to the public perception, RBI fought a fix in between larger or rather dangerous political agendas. Consolidating requests from SEBI to only fall into the whims of the government shows the lack lustre personality of the central funding institution. For the time being, Narendra Modi has his way, a theft of national treasure-like his opposition colleague Rajiv Gandhi expressed in the media. However, there will also be a far-fetched evaluation of Modi’s actions. A move of 1.2 trillion rupees in the same pot. Not by any means, a cunning cover up.

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Walking the tight rope: India’s Diplomatic Strategy in the Middle East

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India’s diplomatic corps have been resolutely articulating India’s stances and furthering its interests in the international fora where multiple challenges emanating from historical and contemporary contexts are being faced. One important factor which India’s astute foreign policy makers have faced is the complicated and crucial engagement with the Middle East. There are multiple facets to India’s engagement in the contemporary context that add to this complexity. One, India’s old adversary and neighbor Pakistan has upped the ante in its diplomatic blitzkrieg especially within the Muslim world. Second India’s has varied strategic interests in the warring Middle East factions. Third, the economic interdependencies and the crisis in the international trade in the Trump era has further complicated India’s position as an economic actor in the region. While there are various constituent elements of India’s Middle East outreach, the contemporaneous concerns relate more to its relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey.

India and Saudi Arabia have historically engaged in deep and multi-dimensional political, economic, cultural, defence and strategic cooperation. Saudi Arabia has long been an important Indian trade partner; the Kingdom remains a vital source of energy for India, which imports almost a fifth of its crude oil requirement from Saudi Arabia. Enhanced security cooperation has added a new dimension in the bilateral ties between New Delhi and Riyadh. Recently, Indian PM Narendra Modi was conferred with the highest civilian award of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even as the top leadership continues to send signals of deep comradarie and solidarity.

With the ascent of the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, various layers in this important diplomatic relationship have surfaced. This has happened in a particularly peculiar geopolitical and geostrategic context where both countries have faced tough challenges to their internal stability and international position. While Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still emerging from the consequences of the massive attack in its oil fields as well as the widespread criticism of humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the international fora, India is grappling with international criticism and discourse about the situation in Kashmir in context of dilution of its political autonomy as well as prolonged information and communication blackout.KSA has had a mediating role in the Indo-Pak tussle since Pulwama and how this hyphenation has led to competitive photo-ops of diplomatic support. Even as KSA has stood by Indian leadership’s vital interests. However, the Pakistani leadership has been relentless in its attempts to appeal to the leader of the Islamic world for vital economic and diplomatic support, especially in context of the Kashmir situation. Even as Saudi Arabia has managed this delicate equation with deftness, it has given in to Pakistan’s economic demands while making a symbolic gesture of closeness by offering the private jet to Pakistani Prime Minister for his visit to the West.  It doesn’t help that the Indian economy is going through a rough phase. However, the audacious announcement to invest $100 Billion in the fledgling Indian economy is a bold testament of the veritable and vibrant economic partnership between New Delhi and Riyadh. It is pertinent to note that in the contemporaneous challenges that the countries face, Iran as well as Pakistan emerge as key actors that affect the bilateral engagement in a pronounced manner.

Iran is India’s historic ally and third largest supplier of crude oil. However, the India-Iran relationship transcends oil. India, with an investment of $500 million, aims to develop Iran’s Chabahar port as a transit hub for Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Additionally, India is developing two gas fields, namely Farzad-B gas field located in Tehran and the South Pars field located between Iran and Qatar. These projects clearly highlight India’s long-term engagement with Iran. However, India’s muted response to US pressure has been causing slight tension in the bilateral relationship. Even though the top-level bilateral meeting between Indian premier Modi and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani was successful to diffuse tensions to an extent. The crisis in Yemen, oil trade and even India’s action in Kashmir continue to affect the relationship.

In this context, the challenges emanating from Turkey are also a sign of worry. Even as Turkey has remained an old ally of Pakistan and a supporter of the ‘Kashmiri’ cause, its open support for a rather lonely Pakistan should cause some worry in India’s strategic circles. This is because India has fine diplomatic relations with Turkey and has considerable economic and trade interests.

However, oil being an important consumer and agricultural good in India’s economy, it is important to secure its interests to have access to reliable and affordable Iranian crude oil. The trade negotiations and engagements with the US haven’t had any headway even as the threat of sanctions for buying oil from Iran continues. India could emerge as a trouble-solver in this context especially since this KSA-Iran conflict in oil supply context has global implications. PM Modi’s personal chemistry with the US leadership could be useful in this context.

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