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Most critical issue being faced by humanity is terrorism

Most critical issue being faced by humanity is terrorism

OPINION: Having four nuclear powers in its fold, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has become center of gravity in international diplomacy after India and Pakistan joined this forum on Friday in Astana.

This was the first time that a UN Secretary-General attended an SCO Summit. Attendance of UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the SCO Summit Astana was quite symbolic and a confirmation that the organization is becoming a real political power in the international arena. However, all member states of the SCO are facing a similar threat of growing terrorism in and around their territories.

The 17th SCO Summit in Astana pledged to formulate a joint strategy to fight international terrorism through regional cooperation. Illegal migration and terrorism were two issues that actually determined the mood of Friday’s Summit.

The SCO now is a forum of eight states. China tops in population growth while India is second largest in population. Pakistan stands at 6th position while Russia stands at 9th position in population growth.

Russia with its 17.1 million square kilometers of land area stands as the largest country of the world while China stands at 3rd position in land size, and India is at the 7th position, as Kazakhstan stands at the 9th position in land size.

China, Russia, India, and Pakistan are not only nuclear powers but are leading countries in missile technology, and the collective size of their armies is largest in the world. However, India and Pakistan are arch rivals, and their economic resources are being spent to maintain their survival against each other.

Now SCO member states cover a space of about 23% of the globe, comprising of 45% of the world population, earning 25% of the total world GDP.

Everyone present at the Astana Summit was worried about the law and order situation in Afghanistan, because the three-decade old Afghan civil war is the major impediment in archiving regional peace and prosperity.

The “Afghan war” was the common pair of words that echoed in the Summit halls when heads of member states were delivering their speeches. Tajik President Emomali Rahmon was quite vocal, telling the participants about how the Afghan army had been facing defeats and about the deaths in areas bordering Central Asian republics.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was of the view that the military solution for the Afghan civil war is not working, and the Afghan war is (or was) hampering regional developments and international peace. He appreciated the Afghan government for announcing the Kabul initiative for peace, but added that open dialogue between stakeholders must be the top priority for such a peace initiative.

Russian President Putin revealed that the Islamic State (IS) terror group also known as Daesh, and other terror groups were active in the SCO member states, which was proved during the investigation into the metro terrorist attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg. He stated that terrorists based in Afghanistan have been seeking to enter Central Asia and Russia.

Putin informed other heads of member states that Daesh plans to destabilize southern Russia and Central Asia.

“We have information that the IS has been making new plans to destabilize Central Asia and southern Russia. There is a need to strengthen coordination between special services and counter terrorism organizations of member states,” added Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko; President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev; Indian Prime Minister Modi; and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also indicated that the most critical issue being faced by humanity is terrorism, and SCO members must work together to defeat it.

Participants of the SCO Summit also indicated that illegal migration leads to global terrorism, and recent wave of terrorism in Europe is linked with illegal migration and instability in the Middle East.

SCO Member states and SCO Observer states have long been expressing their concerns over the Afghan war, and Pakistan suffered a lot due to volatile Afghanistan. As many as 70,000 innocent civilians lost their lives during the last 6 years in Pakistan in terrorist attacks by the hand of a terror outfit having a brand name of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The leadership of TTP has been hiding inside Afghanistan since Pakistan launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists in June 2014. The Afghan government says that it has no control over areas where the TTP leadership is hiding, while US and NATO forces have also failed to find TTP Chief Mullah Fazlullah in the Kunar province of Afghanistan where he is reportedly living with his family.

It may be recalled that Pakistan, India, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, China, and Afghanistan attended the Afghan Peace Conference held in Moscow on April 4, 2017 in a bid to initiate a peace dialogue between the fighting Taliban group and the Afghan government. However, the Afghan government sent a low-profile delegation to the Moscow Peace Conference, hampering credibility of this conference. The Taliban refused to attend the event after receiving the list of names of those in the Afghan delegation a night before the Moscow Peace conference. The Taliban, while regretting their participation in the conference, said that the Afghan government was not serious in a political dialogue with them, therefore, it (the Afghan government) sent a low-profile delegation, having no powers to give commitment for peace.

Afghanistan is an Observer of SCO, and the Afghan President held meetings with heads of member states including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Modi, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Friday.

A number of important meetings among heads of member states took place on Friday including a meeting of Russian President Putin with Chinese President Xi Jinping and with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Russian diplomats consider President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as “constrictive.” Both leaders discussed bilateral relations, including trade and economic cooperation, and also current international issues. Vladimir Putin congratulated Nawaz Sharif on Pakistan’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The proposal of China to hold the SCO Media Summit before the next SCO Summit for the heads of states is also an interesting initiative, because SCO member states saw almost a black-out situation regarding converge of the 17th SCO Summit in Astana in the western press. There is the possibility that SCO member states may move for a joint media strategy and devise media tools to promote the SCO cause and work among media houses of member states.

The Astana Declaration and the Convention on Combating Extremism and a statement on the fight against terrorism was signed by heads of member states. The Astana Declaration covers a joint plan for implementing the program for cooperation between the SCO countries in tourism in 2017-2018, and a memorandum on the mutual understanding between the SCO Secretariat and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was signed.

This is a big diplomatic achievement for the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, that his personal relations with heads of states of Central Asia helped Pakistan to become a member of the SCO within four years when he came back into power.

Inclusion of Pakistan into the SCO as full member needed unanimous approval from all member states as per the rules of the SCO. An Indian lobby was working to stop the inclusion of Pakistan and India at the same time, and there was a proposition to include India at first and let Pakistan wait for some more years. However, three heads of Central Asian States who had cordial relations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif since independence of their states, were of the view that Pakistan should be included without delay. Pakistan was the first country to start air linkages with Central Asia states after their independence from the former Soviet Union during the first term Nawaz Sharif was prime minister (1990–93). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first head of state from South Asia who visited newly-independent Central Asia states. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev; the then Uzbek President, the late Islam Karimov; and Tajik Emomali Rahmon were ruling their countries as heads of states and all were (or are) impressed by swift diplomacy and friendly relations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During the Ufa SCO Summit in 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz held separate and detailed meetings with these three old friends and insisted their full support for SCO membership. His personal relations with heavy-weight personalities like Nursultan Nazarbayev, the late Islam Karimov, and Tajik Emomali Rahmon worked out, and Pakistan got strong support from them in a meeting that was fixed to decide the fate of the Pakistani membership. Pakistan was already supported by China and Russia, therefore, the decision came out in favor of Pakistan.

Pakistan and India were given time to sign the SCO Charter documents that included no bilateral conflict would be discussed or presented to the SCO forum. Both countries fulfilled their obligations before the Astana Summit, and their memberships were approved through the Astana Declaration.

There is no doubt that membership of SCO is a landmark victory for the government of PM Nawaz, but it comes with many responsibilities to get maximum benefit out of this forum, and the foremost issue is capacity building to get an outcome from this new land of opportunities.

Pakistan can take tremendous benefits from being a member of the SCO, but it has to build its capacity to get such benefits. All of SCO members, except China, speak the Russian language which is also an official language of the SCO along with Chinese. The majority of Indian diplomats, bureaucrats, and traders are conversant in the Russian language due to the Indo-Russo 70-year-old relationship. Meanwhile, such bilingual expertise is not present in a majority of Pakistani diplomats, bureaucrats, and traders.

Another issue is to understand the mind-set and market trends of former Soviet Union states.

Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan are former Soviet Union states and have peculiar and unusual styles of business, negotiations, and fixing trade deals. Pakistan has to understand their social fabrics, their language, and their administrative structures to bag trade and business opportunities.

There is no land connection properly established with Central Asia from Pakistan due to war-ridden Afghanistan that falls between Pakistan and Central Asian borders. A reliable air route is also not available. There is only one flight from Pakistan to Tashkent, and that also runs on load basis. This flight started in April 2017 after termination of flight operations for four years. This flight was suspended during the month of Ramadan due to a “no load” situation. This flight is run by Uzbek Airways.

On the other hand, India has a direct daily flight from Delhi to Tashkent and Amartsar to Tashkent. The Astana-Delhi flight also runs on a daily basis. Now there will be two daily flights connecting Astana and Delhi starting in the first week of July 2017. It will be a challenge for Pakistan to enhance bilateral trade with Central Asian countries and Russia without people-to-people contact and without access to the destination. There is no flight between Pakistan and any Russian city, and flights via the Middle East are too expensive.

Did Pakistan do some capacity building of its traders, businessmen, bureaucrats, and diplomats to deal with this new land of opportunities after its application for membership was approved in Ufa?

The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of eTurboNews (eTN) or Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of either publication.

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