A realistic paradigm shift


Recalibrating Russo-Pak relations

A few weeks ago, Asian Development Bank – the major financier of Diamir Bhasha dam – reportedly refused to provide finances for the project maintaining that since the dam was being built on a disputed territory, the bank needed green signal from India to go ahead with its commitment. That indeed was a very frustrating and worrying development for a cash-strapped and energy deficient Pakistan. However, this setback which threatened to scuttle the prospects of this vital multi-purpose project ever taking off proved ephemeral. A new ray of hope has emerged from Russia. As revealed by media, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was scheduled to visit Pakistan in October, and among other things he wanted to discuss with the Pakistani leadership was the prospects of Russia providing entire finances amounting to US$13 billion for the construction of the dam on the basis of government to government funding. Mr Vladimir Putin in his meeting with President Zardari at Santana, Kazakhstan, on the eve of SCO Summit has already indicated Russian willingness to support trans-regional economic and trade cooperation and projects like transmitting electric power from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan and building of a gas pipeline between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI). These developments are a ranting proof of the success of the efforts that the present government has unfurled to build regional linkages and choreograph a new relationship with Russia.

Pakistan is also striving to have its status as observer changed to a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). A closer and incisive look at the benefits that could accrue to Pakistan by joining SCO merits due consideration. The SCO, launched on 15 June, 2001, comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It succeeded the Shanghai Five Mechanism that was established with the purpose of strengthening confidence building measures and disarmament in the border regions of the member states and to resolve border disputes among them.

According to the Charter of SCO the main purposes of the organization are: strengthening mutual trust and good neighborliness and friendship among member states; developing their effective cooperation in political affairs, economy, trade, culture, education, energy and environmental protection; working together to maintain regional peace, security and stability and promoting the creation of a new international political and economic order. SCO abides by the basic principles of the UN Charter that stipulate respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In January 2004, in view of the burgeoning phenomenon of terrorism and extremism, the SCO decided to set up Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) with the purpose of enhancing cooperation among the member states to deal with terrorism, separatism and extremism.

SCO is unique in the sense that it is based on a new model of state-to-state relationship that derives its strength from cooperative configuration rather than binding them into a formal alliance like NATO. The resolve of SCO to fight the menace of terrorism, promoting regional peace and security and working for shared economic prosperity are very much in harmony with what Pakistan is looking for and needs desperately. The major initiative on part of Pakistan to strengthen its credentials for full membership of SCO was unfurled by President Zardari during his visit to Russia in mid-May last year when he offered Russia to use Pakistan’s territory to gain access to the Southern Seas and Russia reciprocated with re-affirmation for Pakistan’s full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. President Zardari, after his meeting with the President of Kazakhstan before the SCO Summit, had also repeated his offer of allowing the Central Asian states to use Pakistani ports for quick and better connectivity with the world.

The presence of the giants like Russia and China in the SCO along with Central Asian states, rich in natural resources, promise infinitesimal opportunities for peace and economic prosperity of the region. The economic linkages evolved through the SCO forum will also strengthen prospects of regional security. Pakistan presently faces an existentialist threat from terrorism and religious extremism and the member states of the SCO are also victims of this menace in varying degrees. Making a common cause and fighting collectively to stop it in its tracks stand a better chance of success and Pakistan can contribute to this effort as well as benefit from it tremendously. Pakistan is also confronted with a severe energy crisis. The materialization of TAPI and other trans-regional power and gas projects could help her tide over the problem and nudge the process of economic revival.

Pakistan presently is also engaged in diversifying its exports and finding new and easily accessible markets for its products. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization states, making almost one fourth of the world population with geographical proximity and easy accessibility, constitute a very lucrative market for its exports. Similarly, it can attract the required investments in the energy and infrastructure sector in which some of the SCO countries have a comparative advantage. The strategic location of Pakistan in the region and its economic potential can also help the SCO members to exploit their economic prowess to the maximum. With the prospects of Afghanistan and Iran also joining the Organization in the near future, SCO is likely to emerge as a very strong regional organization.

The SCO also has an international dimension. One of its purposes is to work together to promote and create a new political and economic world order. In the prevailing global environment wherein a sole super power supported by its western allies is feverishly engaged in fashioning a new world order chiseled to its own perceptions which in certain cases has created more threats for the world peace and security, the role of SCO in firming up the new world order and eliminating the vulnerabilities of this region to foreign intervention, assumes greater significance. Regional organizations like Shanghai Cooperation Organization are perhaps the best forums to strengthen regional security and preserving world peace.

The efforts by the present government to recalibrate relations with Russia and seeking full membership of SCO are commendable steps designed to make amends for its past follies in the arena of foreign relations. Pakistan is moving in the right direction. This realistic and visionary paradigm shift in the conduct of foreign relations also enhances foreign policy options for Pakistan in the changing geo-political environment and addressing its security concerns. The strategy has already started paying dividends.