Pakistan is looking East, and is also pinning hopes on regional cooperation through blocs such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the SCO. The Bloc boasts support from two major regional powers in form of Russia and China.
Many reasons support this thinking and tilt from Pakistan. For instance, despite all cooperation and the consequent suffering, Pakistan continues to face American pressures. The recent episode of this series of pressures came when Pakistan suspended NATO supply line as a backlash of Salala Checkpost Attack on 26th November 2011. This suspension lead to threats of cutting down the civil military aid to the country from the US Congressmen and policy makers.
There is an increasing pressure on Pakistan by the United States and several other countries in combating terrorism, as well as in the settlement of the Afghan crisis. Washington uses financial instruments (mainly financial aid) military threats (in form of Drone attacks) and launched a mass media campaign against Islamabad accusing Pakistan of supporting terror. This campaign, to a larger extent, was successful and mainstream media channels such as the BBC were used to broadcast documentaries involving militants who were interviewed and accepted to take Pakistani military and intelligence support for fighting against the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The channel coupled with the documentary were heavily criticized as many dubious elements tagged it as purely an agenda campaign.
The possible membership of the SCO presents a lucrative opportunity for Pakistan where partnership with China and Russia can reduce Pakistan’s dependence on the US and its Western allies for financial as well as security cooperation. Furthermore, increased regional cooperation with these aforementioned regional powers would also help lowering dependence on US financial aid, a tool used to make Pakistan an obliging ally for the US.
The Eastern cooperation can pave way for opening numerous corridors of progress for Pakistan as well as other South Asian states, mainly India and Afghanistan. This can open ways for exporting Energy from energy-rich countries (Russia- Turkmenistan – Iran) to energy-scarce states such as Pakistan and India. Energy-deficient countries can greatly benefit from this increased regional cooperation. One such example is the Trans Afghan Pipeline, or TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India), which surely would help overcoming some part of the energy shortfall in Pakistan and India.
In order to achieve these goals and gain dividends from the SCO, Pakistan needs to participate actively in the activities of the SCO in the areas of combating terrorism, drug trafficking and the Afghan settlement. Drug trafficking has been a major area of concern for Moscow, which blames the ignorance of coalition forces in tackling the issue and hence leading to more drugs going into Russia. This participation and cooperation will help to expedite the process of obtaining full membership in the organization for Pakistan.
Interaction with the SCO will create real preconditions for countries to large-scale regional development programmes, particularly in the energy, transport and information spheres. This will cause an improvement in areas of the economy and security of the country, as well as strengthen its impact in the region. Russia and the Central Asian countries have supported Pakistan’s desire to become a full member of the Organization, while China has refrained from doing so. Sergei Lavrov, the acting Russian Foreign Minister, in a recent SCO meeting pushed for India and Pakistan’s membership in the SCO coupled with more involvement in Afghan security situation and post NATO withdrawal scenario.
Pakistan must convince Beijing that Islamabad’s full participation in the Organization will be useful in addressing major regional issues. Pakistan must seize the moment, and exploit regional energy resources by partnering with Russia, China and India for energy and commercial trade. This can also minimize Pakistani vulnerabilities vis a vis the west.