The Big Ques­tion

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Asna Ali The writer is a busi­ness grad­u­ate. She has in­ter­est in po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues.

To­day’s world is vastly dif­fer­ent from what it used to be a few decades ago. The era of a po­lar­ized world in which smaller coun­tries aligned them­selves with one su­per­power or the other is gone. In­stead, re­gional pow­ers are emerg­ing in all parts of the globe, amass­ing po­lit­i­cal and economic clout in the power vac­uum left by the United States. Granted, the U.S. is still a heavy­weight to be reck­oned with but the war on ter­ror and the re­cent fi­nan­cial cri­sis has left it some­what crip­pled.

Mean­while, post-Cold War Rus­sia is on a mis­sion to re­gain its in­flu­ence and the first step to­wards achiev­ing this goal is to be­come im­por­tant re­gion­ally. In­dia and China are also fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar path so it is not sur­pris­ing at all that th­ese coun­tries are com­ing to­gether to form var­i­ous trade and se­cu­rity or­ga­ni­za­tions and forge co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments.

The Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO) is one such block. Pre­vi­ously known as the Shang­hai Five, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is com­posed of China, Kaza­khstan, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Rus­sia, and Ta­jik­istan. Uzbek­istan joined the body in 2001 while Pak­istan, In­dia Afghanistan, Mon­go­lia and Iran have ob­server sta­tus in the body. In terms of re­sources and ge­o­graph­i­cal mass, the sheer hu­man pop­u­la­tion cov­ered by the SCO is for­mi­da­ble. If some or all of the ob­server states be­come mem­bers, the SCO will com­prise half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in coun­tries that are be­com­ing im­por­tant on the world stage for one rea­son or an­other. As In­dia, Rus­sia and China con­tinue with their quest to be­come mil­i­tary and economic gi­ants, Pak­istan, Iran and Afghanistan are viewed with trep­i­da­tion be­cause of the po­ten­tial threat their volatil­ity poses to the world.

By con­duct­ing fre­quent joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and ne­go­ti­at­ing se­cu­rity treaties to work against the threats of ‘ter­ror­ism, sep­a­ratism and ex­trem­ism,’ the SCO has shown its de­sire to in­crease its mil­i­tary stand­ing both in the re­gion and in­ter­na­tion­ally de­spite claims that there are no plans to form a mil­i­tary bloc.

How­ever, the SCO has not re­stricted it­self to se­cu­rity re­lated agree­ments only. Economic co­op­er­a­tion is also high on its agenda. The global fi­nan­cial cri­sis pre­sented a good start­ing point to the SCO to come up with a more re­silient bank­ing and fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Mem­ber states have also ex­pressed their in­ter­est in ac­quir­ing a big­ger quota in the IMF. More re­cently, the New Devel­op­ment Fund has been formed by BRICS na­tions - Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa.

The NDF has its head­quar­ter in Shang­hai and seeks to be­come an al­ter­na­tive to the World Bank and the IMF. While such an am­bi­tious plan may take time, the NDF does have a close link with the SCO and this will fur­ther strengthen the po­si­tion of its mem­ber states in the re­gion. It will also en­cour­age smaller na­tions in Asia, which are cur­rently de­pen­dent on in­ter­na­tional fund­ing for economic sur­vival, to forgo help from the IMF and turn to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries for bailout money and devel­op­ment funds.

The SCO has cer­tainly been po­si­tion­ing it­self as an al­ter­na­tive to the west since its in­cep­tion. Its show of mil­i­tary might could be construed as a way to dis­cour­age en­try of western forces into Cen­tral Asia. There have been no di­rect threats to western pow­ers but in its ob­server sta­tus, Iran has used the plat­form to ex­press hos­tile views to­wards the United States. Cur­rently, no western coun­try has mem­ber­ship or ob­server sta­tus with the SCO.

Given this sce­nario, sev­eral re­gional coun­tries have been angling for the mem­ber­ship of the SCO. Nepal is among them and has a very strong ra­tio­nale for join­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Af­ter wad­ing in the demo­cratic process for the past sev­eral years, Nepal is fi­nally find­ing its feet by es­tab­lish­ing ties with sev­eral na­tions. It is felt by an­a­lysts that Nepal’s im­age has suf­fered in re­cent years due to in­ter­nal dis­cord af­ter the abol­ish­ment of the monar­chy and the coun­try’s ini­tial for­ays into democ­racy.

Nepal is well on its way to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a firm demo­cratic process and its suc­cess in this re­gard will be par­tially mea­sured by its abil­ity to take on board the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in a man­ner most suit­able to its own par­tic­u­lar needs. The gov­ern­ment

has shown a will­ing­ness to pur­sue diplo­macy as a means to fur­ther­ing Nepal’s in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ests.

As Nepal has both China and In­dia as its neigh­bours, there is sim­ply no way for it to avoid deal­ing with them. Also, it wouldn’t be a pru­dent for­eign pol­icy tac­tic if ei­ther one of th­ese heavy­weights was ig­nored. Both coun­tries have the po­lit­i­cal and economic clout to help Nepal in its bid for progress. They also have a greater in­ter­est in Nepal’s well-be­ing than western pow­ers for whom the coun­try may be rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant.

In­side Nepal, there is a de­sire for the coun­try to take up a clear for­eign pol­icy stance and po­si­tion it­self in al­liances that can sup­port it through economic up­heavals. In the wake of the war on ter­ror and the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, the world stage is un­cer­tain in terms of both se­cu­rity and economic sta­bil­ity. Any sud­den change in con­di­tions could sweep away smaller coun­tries with the tide since they do not have the depth of mil­i­tary or mon­e­tary re­sources nec­es­sary to with­stand such pres­sures.

Threats to the sta­bil­ity of coun­tries are not just ap­pear­ing on the ground th­ese days. In­ter­na­tional bound­aries have be­come more fluid since the world has be­come dig­i­tally con­nected. This has led to an in­crease in cy­ber crimes and has also helped those who use the in­ter­net to carry out their il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. The SCO has taken an ac­tive stance in pro­tect­ing its mem­ber states from such threats and its ca­pa­bil­i­ties in this area could help Nepal as well.

How­ever, while there has been talk of Nepal join­ing the SCO for the past sev­eral years, this can­not take place with­out col­lec­tive po­lit­i­cal will and a strong for­eign pol­icy. For a fledg­ling econ­omy, it is just not pos­si­ble to flour­ish in the cur­rent cli­mate with­out the help of trade and co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments. Glob­al­iza­tion, like ev­ery­thing else, works on the prin­ci­ple of give and take. By stand­ing on the side­lines in an ef­fort to re­main neu­tral, Nepal will grad­u­ally lose its use­ful­ness to its highly com­pet­i­tive and am­bi­tious neigh­bours.

Un­der the cir­cum­stances, the best course of ac­tion for Nepal is to make ac­tive and con­crete ef­forts to join the SCO and fully take ad­van­tage of the var­i­ous ben­e­fits of­fered by its mem­ber states. In the future, the NDF could also serve as a use­ful mon­e­tary re­source for the coun­try.

The ra­tio­nale for join­ing the SCO is very strong and it is up to Nepal’s cur­rent lead­er­ship to prove to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mem­bers that by ac­cept­ing it into their ranks they will not just be tak­ing on dead weight and that Nepal will be able to ac­tively con­trib­ute to­wards the greater good of all mem­ber states.

A broad po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus among var­i­ous stake­hold­ers of the Nepalese gov­ern­ment is the key to the suc­cess of its for­eign pol­icy. In ad­di­tion, there is also a need to over­haul and im­prove the coun­try’s diplo­matic in­fra­struc­ture to build a more pos­i­tive in­ter­na­tional im­age.

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