By Ramesh Jaura
This is the second in a series of articles from Kazakhstan which being geographically located both in Asia and Europe, considers itself a Eurasian country. The articles are based on information gathered during a visit from June 7 to June 15 on the occasion of the opening of EXPO 2017 in Astana. Video clips accompany the articles in this series. – The Editor
ASTANA (IDN) – Within days of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit and opening of the ‘EXPO 2017: Future Energy‘, Roman Vassilenko, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, proudly refers to “25 achievements of Kazakhstan’s diplomacy in 25 years” and speaks of a “truly historic moment” in the country’s “modern history”.
One such achievement, according to Vassilenko, is launching the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), a multinational forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia on the basis of the UN Charter.
The idea of convening the CICA was first proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on October 5, 1992, at the 47th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. This initiative aimed at setting up an efficient and acceptable structure for ensuring peace and security in Asia.
Meanwhile CICA brings together 26 diverse nations: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam.
As one of CICA’s achievements, Vassilenko recalls in a media briefing the summit meeting from June 3-5, 2002 between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to ease tensions between the two countries.
Now that both India and Pakistan have been admitted as members of the SCO at its annual summit in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on June 9, senior Kazakh officials hope that the CICA and SCO frameworks will provide fresh impulses for dialogue on way to resolving their outstanding disputes.
Diplomats from India and Pakistan share this view. “The SCO is an important organisation for Pakistan and India. This is not an organisation to settle disputes but work for the region and common challenges and for common development,” Press Trust of India quoted Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Deputy Ambassador of Pakistan to China, in a report from Beijing.
Baloch joined India’s Ambassador to China, Vijay Gokhale, in the briefing along with other diplomats at SCO headquarters in Beijing.
Baloch said the SCO could help bring India and Pakistan closer to address their differences. She also expressed the hope that the entry of India and Pakistan into the SCO would pave the way for the 19th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
India pulled out of the 2016 SAARC Summit after a string of terror attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants, leading to a pullout by Bangladesh, Afghanistan, the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The summit was subsequently cancelled.
It’s still not clear whether the summit will be held at the end of this year either, given India’s position on Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border terror. Baloch, however, indicated that Islamabad is working to holding the summit.
Pakistan, she said, hoped the inclusion of the two countries will contribute to our “region’s development and more understanding between all parties in the SCO”.
Talking about possible cooperation within the SCO framework, Baloch said: “Of course, when you work together (in the same organisation), you are in the same organisation, you have opportunities to resolve many of the issues.
“With the increase of the membership with the inclusion of Pakistan and India, we have made this organisation more inclusive and we will be able to work together to fight common challenges.”
Before India joined the SCO as a member, it had been its observer since 2005 and participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping, which focuses mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region.
The two South Asian countries are the first to join the organisation since it was founded in 2001 by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to foster multilateral cooperation on security issues,
In the wake of joining the SCO as full-fledged members, India and Pakistan now have a new space to work out their differences, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the historic gathering inaugurated on June 8. He said the SCO was becoming one of the world’s gravitational centers and one of the foundations of the current global order.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the entry of the new members would give fresh impetus to the organisation’s development and further boost its relevance internationally.
Explaining the importance of the accession of India and Pakistan, The Astana Times said in an editorial: “It will significantly strengthen the SCO’s security capabilities and enhance the political and economic aspect of the organisation.”
Besides, with the latest expansion, the SCO will include countries encompassing over 40 percent of the world’s population. “In addition, full membership could bring a number of benefits for India and Pakistan. The organisation provides a platform for bilateral dialogue, which can contribute to improving the complex – and at times strained – relations between India and Pakistan.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Vassilenko left no doubt that the SCO remains open to new applications. It will next consider the candidacy of Iran, which SCO sources said is backed by Russia but opposed by some members of the organisation such as Tajikistan.
Referring to the membership of Afghanistan, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been quoted as saying that it was obvious that a military solution to the Afghan conflict was not feasible, adding that Russia and the other SCO members back a political solution based on agreements between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency.
The SCO, he said, also must cooperate with the United Nations and other international organisations to halt the trafficking of drugs from Afghanistan.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, for his part, expressed support for the SCO’s strategies in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking and said it was possible to radically reduce the presence of terrorist groups in his country.
Combating terrorism was on top of the SOC summit agenda and hence the subject of a resolution adopted by the organisation. In addition to the final Astana Declaration, the SCO leaders signed 10 other documents, including a convention on combating extremism and a declaration on the joint fight against international terrorism.
Referring to the terrorist threat, Putin told other summiteers that the Islamic State terror organisation had set its sight on Central Asian countries and areas of southern Russia.
Clandestine cells of IS combatants have been created and were operating in the SCO countries, according to Putin, who called for stronger cooperation among member countries’ secret services.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said the inclusion of his country in the SCO would give fresh impetus to the fight against terrorism in the region. His Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif said the organisation’s anti-terrorist initiatives would help improve security in Pakistan.
Observers kept their fingers crossed, how far the expectations placed on normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan would become a reality when China assumes the rotating presidency of the SCO after the Astana summit and will host the organisation’s next annual gathering in 2018. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 June 2017]
Related article: UN Chief Lauds Kazakhstan, Vows Close Cooperation with SCO
Photo: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a brief interaction with his India counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a meeting of the Heads of State Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Astana. Credit: The Nation, Pakistan.
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