As Pak­istan co­zies up to China and Rus­sia, it re­ceives a warm wel­come. How­ever, mak­ing new friends will un­doubt­edly take some work.

Southasia - - Contents - By Aar­ish U. Khan

Pak­istan will have a tough time mak­ing new friends

The 12th meet­ing of the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO), re­cently held in Bei­jing, was a big leap for­ward on the path to re­gional as­sertive­ness on is­sues per­tain­ing to the broader South Asian re­gion. The need for a re­gional ap­proach to­wards out­stand­ing prob­lems be­came more im­por­tant fol­low­ing the re­it­er­a­tion of the US strat­egy of an “ir­re­versible tran­si­tion of full se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­ity from the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force (ISAF) to the Afghan Na­tional Se­cu­rity Forces (ANSF)…for com­ple­tion by the end of 2014,” dur­ing the NATO Chicago sum­mit in May.

While Afghanistan holds an ob­server sta­tus in the moot, a re­gional ap­proach to Afghanistan’s re­con­struc­tion and long-term sta­bil­ity was em­pha­sized. “We will continue to man­age our re­gional af­fairs by our­selves, guard­ing against shocks from tur­bu­lence out­side the re­gion, and will play a big­ger role in Afghanistan’s peace­ful re­con­struc­tion,” Chi­nese Pres­i­dent, Hu Jin­tao, stated dur­ing an in­ter­view given on the side­lines of the sum­mit. The SCO has clearly en­hanced its role over time and by ac­knowl­edg­ing its re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards Afghanistan in the con­text of NATO’s with­drawal from the coun­try, it has am­ply demon­strated that it is eye­ing a big­ger role for peace, sta­bil­ity, and pros­per­ity in the re­gion.

Afghanistan is not the only fac­tor pre­oc­cu­py­ing the minds of the de­ci­sion-mak­ers in China and Rus­sia, the two ma­jor play­ers in SCO (other mem­bers in­clude Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Ta­jik­istan and Uzbek­istan; while In­dia, Mon­go­lia, Pak­istan, and now Afghanistan hold ob­server sta­tus). In­creas­ing con­cerns shown by Wash­ing­ton re­gard­ing the re­cent Philip­pine

claims over the Chi­nese Huangyan Is­land and Amer­ica’s planned naval shift to­wards the Pa­cific Ocean by 2020, are sources of anx­i­ety for Bei­jing. On the other hand, Moscow has its own wor­ries vis-à-vis NATO, such as its pur­suit of bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense (BMD) sys­tems. Sim­i­larly, both Bei­jing and Moscow are nei­ther en­thused about U.S. ten­dency to mil­i­tar­ily in­ter­vene in other coun­tries to in­tro­duce a regime change nor too com­fort­able with its con­fronta­tional pos­ture to­wards Iran.

A few days prior to the SCO sum­mit, U.S. Sec­re­tary of De­fense, Leon Panetta con­firmed the shift­ing of the U.S. mil­i­tary pivot to­wards the Pa­cific dur­ing the eleventh an­nual Shangri La Di­a­logue held in Sin­ga­pore un­der the aus­pices of the Lon­don-based In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies (IISS). “Make no mis­take, the United States mil­i­tary is bring­ing en­hanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties to this vi­tal re­gion,” said Panetta. Not amused by U.S. bravado, the Chi­nese termed the shift of the bulk of U.S. navy to­wards the Pa­cific as ‘un­timely.’ In such a back­drop, the SCO sum­mit and its call for “strength­en­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion, co­or­di­na­tion, and co­op­er­a­tion in deal­ing with ma­jor in­ter­na­tional and re­gional is­sues,” was any­thing but un­timely.

Be­sides the ex­pres­sion of a col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tion for a greater re­gional and in­ter­na­tional role, the SCO sum­mit was a good op­por­tu­nity for en­hanc­ing bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion amongst mem­bers and ob­server states. China and Afghanistan es­tab­lished a strate­gic part­ner­ship on the side­lines of the SCO sum­mit. The Chi­nese have signed agree­ments to de­velop Afghanistan’s min­eral re­sources post-2014, while the Rus­sians have shown in­ter­est in re­con­struct­ing the Salang high­way that con­nects Afghanistan with Cen­tral Asia. Pak­istan also used the op­por­tu­nity to push the Iran-Pak­istan (IP) gas pipe­line project dur­ing Pres­i­dent Zar­dari’s meet­ing with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent, Ahmedine­jad. The two lead­ers, who also met on the side­lines of the Sum­mit, stressed upon the early com­ple­tion of the al­ready agreed projects such as the con­struc­tion of Nushk­iDal­bandin road, the upgra­da­tion of the Quetta-Taf­tan rail­way track and elec­tric­ity project. In a pri­vate meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Jin­tao, Pres­i­dent Zar­dari also sought Chi­nese co­op­er­a­tion in en­ergy and in­fra­struc­ture projects and dis­cussed the need to in­crease the vol­ume of bi­lat­eral trade.

Al­though nei­ther In­dia nor Pak­istan was given full-mem­ber­ship sta­tus dur­ing the Sum­mit, the con­trast­ing keen­ness of the two coun­tries was il­lus­trated through the ab­sence of the In­dian head of state from the Coun­cil of Heads of Mem­ber States of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is ob­vi­ous that China and Rus­sia are in­ter­ested in pro­ject­ing their re­gional for­eign pol­icy through the SCO plat­form in com­pe­ti­tion, if not in con­fronta­tion, with the U.S. and NATO. Keep­ing in view the re­cent In­dian tilt to­wards the U.S., Pak­istan has a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to re­align its for­eign pol­icy to­wards China and Rus­sia, which could be best achieved through full-mem­ber­ship and an ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in the SCO.

Seiz­ing the mo­ment, Pres­i­dent Zar­dari an­nounced a propo­si­tion to hold an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on nar­cotics in Is­lam­abad. In­ci­den­tally, nar­cotics pro­duc­tion and traf­fick­ing is one of the ma­jor con­cerns of the SCO. More im­por­tantly, Pak­istan will have to tackle the prob­lem of reli­gious ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism for en­dear­ing it­self to Bei­jing and Moscow. The SCO orig­i­nated out of the 2001 Shang­hai Con­ven­tion on Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism, Sep­a­ratism and Ex­trem­ism. Con­se­quently, Ar­ti­cle 1 of the SCO char­ter calls on mem­ber states “to jointly coun­ter­act ter­ror­ism, sep­a­ratism and ex­trem­ism in all their man­i­fes­ta­tions, to fight against il­licit nar­cotics and arms traf­fick­ing and other types of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity of a transna­tional char­ac­ter, and also il­le­gal mi­gra­tion.”

While Pak­istan seeks al­lies other than the U.S. and NATO, its role in coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and reli­gious ex­trem­ism will serve as a key de­ter­mi­nant in iden­ti­fy­ing Pak­istan’s fu­ture with the SCO. On the other hand, Pak­istan could cer­tainly se­cure some diplo­matic mileage through SCO’s com­bin­ing of ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism with sep­a­ratism in the same sen­tence in Ar­ti­cle 1 of its char­ter. Aar­ish U. Khan is a se­nior an­a­lyst at the In­sti­tute of Re­gional Stud­ies.

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