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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

The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event earlier this week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these checkpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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South Asia

IMF bail-out Package and Pakistan

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Pakistan may approach IMF to bail-out the current economic crisis. It is not the first time that Pakistan will knock the doors of IMF. Since 1965, Pakistan has been to IMF 17 times. Almost all of the governments has availed IMF packages. Usually, IMF is a temporary relief and provide oxygen for short time so that the patient may recover and try to be self-sustained. The major role of IMF is to improve the governance or reforms, how the ill-economy of a country may recover quickly and become self-sustained. After having oxygen cylinder for 17 times within 5 decades, Pakistan’s economy could not recover to a stage, where we can be self-sustained and no more looking for IMF again and again. This is a question asked by the common man in Pakistan to their leadership.  People are worried that for how long do we have to run after IMF package? The nation has enjoyed 70 decades of independence and expects to be mature enough to survive under all circumstances without depending on a ventilator.

The immediate impact of decision to approach IMF, is the devaluation of Pakistani Rupees. By depreciating only one rupee to US dollar, our foreign debt increases 95 billion rupees.  Today we witness a depreciation of rupee by 15 approximately (fluctuating), means the increase in foreign debt by 1425 billion rupees. Yet, we have not negotiated with IMF regarding depreciation of Rupees. Usually IMF demand major depreciation but all government understands the implications of sharp devaluation, always try to bargain with IMF to the best of their capacity. I am sure, Government of Pakistan will also negotiate and get the best bargain.

IMF always imposes conditions to generate more revenue and the easiest way to create more income is imposing tax on major commodities including Gas, Electricity and Fuel. Pakistan has already increased the prices of Gas, Electricity and Fuel. It has had direct impact on basic necessities and commodities of life. We can witness a price hike of basic food, consumer items and so on. Except salaries, everything has gone up. While negotiating with IMF formally, we do not know how much tax will be increased and how much burden will be put on the common man.

We believe, our rulers know our capacity and will keep in mind the life of a common man and may not exceed the limit of burden to common man beyond its capacity. We are optimistic that all decisions will be taken in the best interest of the nation.

It is true, that Pakistan has been to IMF so many times, so this might be a justification for the PTI Government to avail IMF package. But, there are people with different approach. They have voted for change and for “Naya” (new) Pakistan. They do not expect from PTI to behave like previous several governments. If PTI uses the logic of previous governments, may not satisfy many people in Pakistan.

Especially, when Pakistan was in a position to take-off economically, we surrendered half way, may not be accepted by many people in Pakistan.

The government has explained that other options like economic assistance from friendly countries was also very expensive, so that they have preferred IMF as more competitive package. I wish, Government may educate public on the comparison of available options, their terms and conditions, their interest rate, their political conditions, etc. There might be something confidential, Government may avoid or hide, one may not mind and understand the sensitivity of some of the issues. But all permissible information on the terms and conditions of all options in comparison, may be placed on Ministry of Finance’s website or any other mode of dissemination of knowledge to its public.

Against the tradition, people of Pakistan have voted Imran Khan, who so ever was given ticket of PTI, public has voted him or her blindly in trust to Imran Khan. A few of his candidates might not be having very high capabilities or very good reputation, but, public has trusted Imran Khan blindly. Imran Khan is the third most popular leader in Pakistan, after Jinnah the father of nation, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Former Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970s.

People of Pakistan have blindly trusted in Imran Khan and possess very high expectations from him. I know, Imran Khan understands it very well. He is honest, brave and visionary leader and I believe he will not disappoint his voters.

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South Asia

Now India denies a friendly hand: Imran Khan debuts against arrogant neighbors

Sisir Devkota

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Imran Khan is facing the brunt for overly appeasing its arch rival-India. On September 22, Khan tweeted that he was disappointed over India’s arrogant reply to resume bilateral talks in the UNGA and that he had encountered many “small men” in big offices unable to perceive the larger picture.I am observing a south Asian order changing with Khan’s rise in Pakistani politics. We in Nepal need to grasp the possible reality before circumstances shall engulf our interests.

Observation 1

Narendra Modi was undoubtedly “The Prince”of South Asia from Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th century classic political narrative. I sense the old prince acting in distress over the rise of a new one. Imran Khan’s invitation for a ministerial level meeting in New York; amidst the eyes of foreign diplomats could not have been a better approach by Pakistan in a long time. Instead, Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj dismissed the offer, blaming Pakistan’s double standard in killing Indian forces and releasing Burhan Wani’s (India’s terrorist and Pakistan’s martyr) postal stamps. Khan did not sanction the postal release, but as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he must be held accountable for failing to stop the killings,just when talks were supposed to happen. He should have addressed the highly sensitive Indian government. But, I do empathize with Khan’s statement, “small men in big offices”; as he clearly outlined the exact problem. He directly called upon the Indian government to think bigger and escape circumstances to solve historical problems. Narendra Modi has developed a new rhetoric these days; that India is not going to keep quiet over Pakistan’s actions. It fits the nature of Machiavelli’s Prince as an authority which can maintain national virtue. Unfortunately, I do not buy Modi’s rhetoric. The Prince has come a bit late in his tenure to act for Indian virtues. I am sure many at the UNGA would have noticed India’s apprehension in the same manner. I suspect that the ex-prince is facing insecurities over the fear of losing his charisma. Nepal, in particular was charmed by his personality when he first visited our capital, with promises that flooded our heart. And then, we faced his double standard; right after the massive earthquake in 2015. Nobody in Nepal will sympathize with Swaraj’s justification of cancelling the meeting.

Observation 2

Let me explain the source of insecurity. Modi has thrived by endorsing his personality. A tea man who worked for the railways under great financial hardships, became the poster man of India. He generated hope and trust that his counterparts had lost over the years. His eloquent stage performance can fool the harshest of critics into sympathizing his cause. People have only realized later; many macro economists in India now argue that demonetization was, perhaps, one of the worst decisions for India’s sake. Narendra Modi is India sounds truer than Narendra Modi is the Prime Minister of India.

Imran Khan, a former cricketer does not spring the same impression as Modi. Khan, a world champion in 1992, is known for his vision and leadership in Cricket. Comparatively, Khan does not need to sell his poster in South Asia. He does not cry over his speeches to garner mass euphoria. Ask anybody who’s into the sport and they will explain you the legend behind his name. I suspect that Modi has realized that he is going to lose the stardom in the face of Pakistan’s newly elected democratic leader. After all, the Indian PM cannot match Imran’s many achievements in both politics and cricket. I suspect that Modi has realized the fundamental difference in how his subjects inside India and beyond are going to perceive Imran’s personality. I expect more artificial discourses from India to tarnish Imran’s capabilities.

Nepal & Pakistan

You will not find Pakistan associated with Nepal so often than with India. Frankly, Nepal has never sympathized with Indian cause against Pakistan. We have developed a healthy and constructive foreign relations with the Islamic republic. However, there has always been a problem of one neighbor keeping eyes on our dealings with another. Indian interests have hindered proximity with past governments. Now, Imran Khan has facilitated the platform for deeper relations. He does not carry the baggage of his predecessors. He is a global icon, a cricket legend and a studious politician. He is not the result of mass hysteria. Imran Khan has pledged to improve Pakistan’s economy, reinstate foreign ties and boost regional trade. For me, he is South Asia’s new Machiavellian prince; one that can be at least trusted when he speaks.

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