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SCO External Relations and Focus on Regional Cooperation

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The world has trekked from a hegemonic uni-polarity towards bipolarity and now the phenomenon of globalization has given rise to a multipolar world in current international relations which indicates that more and more countries are having influence over world politics, economy and security as opposed to past. The scales of global politics are now tipping in the favour of regionalization and multilateralism. Eurasia and especially Central-Asia has emerged as the most important region in respect of strategic location, natural resources, man power and economic potential in recent times.

Such speculations about Eurasian region are not newly found. A cursory glance at the map purposes that supremacy over Eurasian region would guarantee supremacy over African continent, Western hemisphere, and its peripheries. Currently, Eurasia has about 75% of the world’s population and about three-fourth of the world’s energy sources. It was perhaps the realization of the potential of Eurasian region that prompted the countries in this region to formulate Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO was formulated to enhance regional cooperation between these countries to optimize mutual benefits and minimize shared threats.

SCO is the world’s largest organization in terms of member countries having largest portions of world’s overall population and world’s total energy resources. Currently SCO has eight permanent member countries out of which four members are international nuclear powers. Furthermore, SCO member countries have 18% of the total of world’s road network. The charter of SCO was signed in 2002 by founding countries including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to mark the establishment of the organization. Pakistan and India were accepted into organization as members in 2017. Additionally, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia has been given the status of observer states. United States’ request of observer state membership was rejected by the organization. The possible reason of rejection is the presence of US forces in the central Asian member countries of the organization which is in conflict with the regional cooperation goals of the organization. Furthermore, the cooperation of member countries over terrorism and security will most likely curb US interference in the region and will accelerate economic and trade exchange in the region.

The objectives and accomplishments of SCO is to ensure regional cooperation in politics, economy and security as a priority and expand that cooperation to culture, health, education, tourism, technology, media and sports and to mitigate the evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism in the region.SCO has signed multiple MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) with different international and regional organizations to achieve its objectives. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the United Nations and SCO to prevent human trafficking, drug smuggling, and organized transnational crimes. SCO signed a MoU with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to cooperate over issues of arms trafficking, money laundering and transnational terrorism in the region.  Furthermore, CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and SCO signed a memorandum to combine efforts to maintain regional stability, security and counter terrorism. To increase cooperation over trade, economy, transportation and infrastructure, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) and SCO.

All members enjoy equal status when it comes to decision making process. Decisions can only be made through consensus. This structure ensures that all countries have their concerns met at this platform regardless of the opportunities or potential they have to offer. This structure is unique to the organization and has met with appreciation as well as criticism from the international forums. Experts seem divided over the fact whether the structure will promote or demote regional cooperation. It is assumed that the extent of diversity in the countries involved can make it difficult to reach consensus. However, it is important to note that these countries have shared concerns over security and economy which has gathered them over the platform of SCO in the first place. It is the realization of the fact that only regional connectivity can capitalize the potential of this region that has prompted these countries to form this organization. Consensus based decision making process will tap into the resources and potential of all countries and prevent exploitation of smaller countries to pave the way of regional connectivity that is stable and long term in nature.

Member countries of SCO have already started projects that are connecting the region for trade and economic exchange. These include One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project by China. This initiative plans to build roads and infrastructure that will connect China to Europe through Central and South Asia through Silk Route and simultaneously linking China to Southeast Asia, gulf countries and North Africa. This project has already started and its objective is to not just build road but overall infrastructure that will help the growth of mutual trade and economic exchange by connecting the region. The advanced phase of BRI involves construction of trade zones, industrial parks, and energy sources in the connecting countries along its way. The project also aims to achieve regulating the industry standards across the region, standardizing trade rules, hassle free currency exchange and sharing credit information.

Through the platform of SCO, BRI project and EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) are linked and different agreement between China and Russia have been signed to ensure cooperation in this regard. This link will enable BRI and EAEU to reciprocate each other in achieving their goals.  The materialization of conflict between Russia and China was a real possibility because of contrast of interests in the region. However, SCO has eliminated that possible threat to regional connectivity in Eurasia by joining both the countries on its platform.

Other projects of trade and transport connectivity in the region have found integration with BRI through the platform of SCO. These include INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor) by India and Nurly Zhol project by Kazakhstan. INSTC is a project of launching freight from India to Europe through central Asia and Nurly Zhol is a project of building transportation infrastructure in Kazakhstan. SCO has facilitated the smooth amalgamation of these projects with BRI by gathering the concerned countries on a platform that gives them equal say in the process of making any decision related to Eurasian region. It does not only help economic development in the region but accelerates transnational relations by creating a sense of security among the member countries. Additionally, it preventing exploitation of smaller regional countries through consensus based structure.

Furthermore, SCO will also strengthen culture ties through new visa opportunities. Road transport licensing will increase cross border trade and tourism from Pacific Ocean to Baltic Sea in the region. Furthermore, transportation by road will only require single entry permit and the transnational transportation activities will be observed by joint commission of the member states of SCO.

This comes as no surprise that like any other international cooperation organization, SCO has some challenges that may hinder the process of achieving greater regional connectivity in Eurasia. Afghanistan is a destabilizing factor in the whole region that may pose a threat to achieving stability in central Asia. Although, Afghanistan has obtained the status of observer state in SCO, it needs urgent attention of the organization for its infrastructural reconstruction. The traditional hostility among India and Pakistan may also find its way into the organization in future and form opposing blocks in the organization. However, until now, there have been no such conflicts. Additionally, China and Russia may find themselves locking horn over creating their hegemony in the region in future.

The overall history of achievements by SCO makes the challenges in the region seem important but resolvable. Still, the dream of greater regional connectivity in Eurasia is still to be achieved and SCO is just the first step towards it. SCO is a good start towards regional cooperation as a platform and all factors point to an optimistic future of the organization in achieving regional connectivity.

Author is a Foreign Policy Analyst and Research Head at a think tank based in Islamabad. She has done Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) in Governance and Public Policy. Her areas of research include both regional as well as global issues of contemporary international relations.

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Defense

The Proxy War of Libya: Unravelling the Complexities

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The African continent has been infamous for its desolate conditions and impoverished lifestyle for years. The violence has not spared the region either since the extremely unstable Middle-East has set the vendetta throughout the region, verging Africa in the east. Whether it comes to the spreading influence of ISIS under the flag of Boko Haram; a terrorist organisation operating in Chad and North-eastern Nigeria, or the rampant corruption scandals and ream of military cops in Zimbabwe, the region rivals the instability of its eastern neighbour. However, one conflict stands out in Northern Africa, in terms of high-stake involvement of foreign powers and policies that have riven the country, not unlike Syria in the Middle-East. Libya is one instance in Africa that has faced the civil war for almost a decade yet involves not only local powers but is also a focal point that has caused the NATO powers to be at odds.

Libya, officially recognised as the ‘State of Libya’, is a war-torn country in the Northern periphery of the African continent. The country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the North, Egypt lies to its East and Sudan and Tunisia border in the Southeast and Northwest respectively. Apparent from the topography, Libya stands as an epicentre to the countries ridden with conflicts, stands the ground that was the central root of the infamous Arab Spring uprisings taking a rebellious storm right off its borders in Tunisia back in 2011. While the NATO-led campaign garnered success in overthrowing the notorious dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and thus bringing the draconian regime to an end, it failed to account for the brewing rebels and militias in pockets throughout the state of Libya.

Over the following years, weaponry and ammunition was widely pervaded across the region in spite of strict embargo placed. The pilling artillery and unregulated rebels cycled the instability in the country leading to the successive governments to fail and eventually split the country in two dominant positions: The UN-recognised Government National Accord (GNA), led by Tripoli-based leader and prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by the tailing ally and successor to Gaddafi, General Khalifa Haftar.

While both GNA and LNA vied for the control on Libya, foreign powers involved rather similar to the labyrinth of stakes in Syria, each state split over the side supporting their part of the story and ultimately serving their arching purpose of interference in the region. Despite of the ruling regime of Al-Sarraj since the controversial election win of GNA in 2016, Haftar-led LNA controls an expansive territory and has been launching offensive attacks against the GNA alliance. GNA enjoys the support of US, Turkey, Qatar and Italy; each serving either ideological support or military backing to secure the elected government of Libya. Meanwhile, LNA is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. While the western powers see GNA as an economically stabilising solution to the Libyan crisis, Russia and France eye Haftar as a key ally to expand influence in the African region and reap control of the oil-rich resources under control of Haftar’s troops in the oil-crescent territory.

The Turkish regime, on the other hand, eye Libya as a direct answer to the Russian influence in the Syrian war that has been pushing the Kurdish alliance stronger along and within the southern borders of Turkey. This has led to recent clashes and direct escalation in the proxy war waged in Syria. Turkey plans to incentivise the leveraging position against Russia in Libya by deploying military advisory to Tripoli to strengthen their position against the Russian-backed Haftar to ultimately deter the alliance from spreading far in the African region.

The power split in Libya was exacerbated in 2017 following the Gulf crisis that led to the boycott of Qatar by the Arab quartet led by Saudi Arabia. Libya stood as a battle ground for both strategic and military positions to one up the other alliance in external power games while the internal matters of Libya are long forgotten and population left clueless and desperate for welfare. Since then, the vested interests in Libya have side-lined yet the peace process has been encouraged by both UN and Merkel-led ‘Berlin process’ in support to the UN efforts to restore peace in Libya. However, the strained relations and foreign demarcation is still apparent even though no escalation has been in action for months.

Now the ceasefires have been in talks for a while and except for a few skirmishes, the powers have been curbed since June 2020. The silence could imply room for diplomatic efforts to push a much-awaited resolve to this complex proxy war. With the recent turn of events in the global political canvas, wheels of the betterment might turn in favour of Libya. Saudi Arabia has recently joined hands with Qatar, opening all borders to the estranged ally and resuming diplomatic relations. Turkey is eying the coveted spot in the European Union since the UK exit. The US in redefining its policies under the revitalising administration of Joseph Biden while Russia deals with the tensed relations with the Gulf since the oil price war shattered the mutual understanding shared for years. The core players of the Libyan Proxy war are dormant and may remain passive due to external complexities to handle. Yet, with regional powers like Egypt threatening invasions in Libya and both GNA and LNA showing no interest in negotiation, a conclusive end to the Libyan crisis is still farfetched.

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Defense

Pakistan Army’s Ranking improved

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According to data issued by the group on its official website, Pakistan Army has been ranked the 10th most powerful in the world out of 133 countries on the Global Firepower index 2021.Especially the Special Services Group (SSG) is among the best in the world.  Just behind; 1- United States PwrIndx: 0.0721,  2- Russia PwrIndx: 0.0796, 3- China PwrIndx: 0.0858, 4- India PwrIndx: 0.1214, 5- Japan PwrIndx: 0.1435, 6- South Korea PwrIndx: 0.1621, 7- France PwrIndx: 0.1691, 8- United Kingdom PwrIndx: 0.2008, 9- Brazil PwrIndx: 0.2037, 10- Pakistan PwrIndx: 0.2083.

Global Firepower (GFP) list relies on more than 50 factors to determine a nation’s Power Index (‘PwrIndx’) score with categories ranging from military might and financials to logistical capability and geography.

Our unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced, nations to compete with larger, lesser-developed ones. In the form of bonuses and penalties, special modifiers are applied to further refine the annual list. Color arrows indicate a year-over-year trend comparison.

The geopolitical environment, especially the regional security situation, is quite hostile. Pakistan is bordering India, a typical adversary and has not accepted Pakistan’s independence from the core of heart, and always trying to damage Pakistan. The Kashmir issue is a long standing issue between the two rivals. On the other hand, the Afghan situation is a permanent security threat for Pakistan. Bordering Iran means always facing a danger of aggression from the US or Israel on Iran, resulting in vulnerabilities in Pakistan. The Middle East is a hot burning region and posing instability in the region. The growing tension between China and the US is also a source of a major headache for Pakistan.

Under such a scenario, Pakistan has to be very conscious regarding its security and sovereignty. Although Pakistan’s ailing economy is not supporting its defense needs, it may not compromise strategic issues for its survival. Pakistan focuses on the quality of its forces instead of quantity. The tough training makes a real difference—the utilization of Science and Technology-enabled Pakistan to maintain its supremacy.

Pakistan is situated at a crucial location – the entrance point to the oil-rich Arabian Gulf is just on the major trading route for energy. Pakistan is at the conjunction of Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and China. Pakistan is a pivotal state and always focus of world powers.

During the cold war era, Pakistan sided with the US and protected the region’s American interests. The US military establishment knows well that as long as Pakistan stands with the US, it can achieve all its strategic goals in the region. However, It was the American choice to give more importance to India and ignore Pakistan.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and struggling for the promotion of peace globally. Pakistan always raises its voice at the UN and other international forums for oppressed ones and against any injustice. Pakistan. In the history of seven decades, Pakistan was never involved in any aggression against any country. Pakistan’s official stance is, “We are partner for peace with any country, any nation, or individuals.” Pakistan is a partner and supporter of any peace-initiative in any part of the world. 

However, Pakistan is always prepared to protect its territorial integrity and will not allow any aggressor to harm our sovereignty at any cost. Pakistan is determined for its independence and geographical integrity.

Pakistan is no threat to any country or nation. Neither have any intention of expansion. But always ready to give a tough time to any aggressor.

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Israel continues its air strikes against Syria after Biden’s inauguration: What’s next?

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A family of four, including two children, died as a result of an alleged Israeli air strike on Hama in northwestern Syria on Friday, January 22, Syrian media said. In addition, four people were injured and three civilian houses were destroyed.

According to a military source quoted by Syrian outlets, Israel launched an air strike at 4 a.m. on Friday from the direction of Lebanese city of Tripoli against some targets on the outskirts of Hama city.

“Syrian air defense systems confronted an Israeli air aggression and shot down most of the hostile missiles,” the source said.

The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported that there were loud sounds of explosions in the area.

In turn, the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on alleged strikes resulted in the death of Syrian citizens.

Over the past time, Israel significantly stepped up its aerial bombardment. This incident was the fifth in a series of Israeli air attacks on targets in Syria in the past month and the first after the inauguration of the U.S. President Joe Biden. Foreign analysts and military experts said that Tel Aviv intensified air strikes on Syria, taking advantage of the vacuum of power in the United States on the eve of Biden taking office as president.

While the Donald Trump administration turned a blind eye on such aggression, a change of power in the United States could remarkably limit Israel in conducting of military operations against Syria and Iran-affiliated armed groups located there. As it was stated during his presidential campaign, Joe Biden intends to pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy towards Iran. In particular, he unequivocally advocated the resumption of the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In this regard, Tel Aviv’s unilateral actions against Iranian interests in Syria could harm Washington’s plans to reduce tensions with Tehran.

By continuing air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, Israel obviously sent a massage to the United States that Tel Aviv will consistently run anti-Iran policy, even if it will be in conflict with the interests of the Joe Biden administration. On the other hand, such Israeli behavior threatens to worsen relations with the United States, its main ally.

In the nearest future, the US reaction on the Israeli belligerent approach toward Iran will likely determine whether the relations between Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington will get better or the escalation will continue.

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