PAK-AFG are pivotal for the success and achievement of the SCO’s set objectives.

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Khawaja Hamzaa

Pakistan’s Prime Minister aptly highlighted during his address to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit today (4th July, 2023) that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are pivotal for the success and achievement of the SCO’s set objectives, which are to: strengthen mutual trust, friendship, and good-neighborly relations among member states, promote effective cooperation in politics, trade and economy, science and technology, culture, and education, and for a variety of compelling reasons, the achievement of these lofty goals is intrinsically tied to the peace, security, and economic well-being of both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Because they are in the heart of the SCO’s focus area, Central Asia and the larger Eurasian region, and share borders with six SCO members: China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and India. As a result, they hold a crucial strategic position in the region and are vital partners for the SCO in fostering security and stability. They have large populations and growing economies, making them attractive potential markets for SCO members. They share a history and culture with many SCO member countries and can help to improve cultural understanding and collaboration within the organization. Pakistan has good ties with both China and Russia and can act as a bridge between the SCO and the West. By working together, Pakistan and Afghanistan can help ensure that the SCO remains a stable and inclusive body capable of solving 21st-century concerns.

Afghanistan, as the Prime Minister correctly stated, is located in a strategically vital region, and peace and security there will assist to enhance regional stability and collaboration. He asked the international community to take this situation seriously and to engage the interim Afghan administration in meaningful ways in order to establish a more peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan and the region as a whole. Afghanistan needs peace and security for a variety of reasons, including the country’s long history of conflict and violence, which has had a devastating impact on the country’s people, who deserve to live their lives free of fear and violence, and to enjoy their basic human rights, such as the right to education, healthcare, and employment. Peace and security would create a more stable climate in which businesses could operate, resulting in economic growth and employment creation. Peace and security would make it more difficult for terrorist groups to function in the country, reducing the region’s and the world’s threat from terrorism. The international community should take a number of steps to improve Afghanistan’s security situation, including: providing financial assistance to Afghanistan to help rebuild its infrastructure and economy, creating jobs and improving living standards and supporting the interim Afghan government in its efforts to build a stable and secure country. This might involve training and equipment for Afghan security forces, as well as encouraging dialogue and reconciliation among Afghan factions. Ending the violence and paving the path for a more peaceful and stable future for Afghanistan requires addressing the core causes of conflict in Afghanistan, such as poverty, inequality, and a lack of opportunity, encouraging education and employment, and supporting women’s rights.

The Prime Minister did not mince words when he asked India, without naming it, to stop violence and lynching, as well as the destruction of places of worship for ethnic and religious minorities in India, and to resolve the issue of illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolutions. The Prime Minister’s strong words will undoubtedly put much-needed pressure on India to reconsider its policy of genocide against minorities and take steps to end violence against them, which is critical for achieving the SCO goal of creating a more just and inclusive society in which all members of society feel treated fairly and have the same rights. The resolution of the Kashmir issue is also critical to accomplishing the SCO’s goals. The Kashmir conflict has raged for decades, causing significant instability in the region. A resolution to the issue would assist to alleviate tensions and promote regional peace and security.The UN resolution on Kashmir urges for a peaceful resolution of the dispute through discussions between India and Pakistan, as well as the protection of all Kashmiris’ human rights, regardless of ethnicity or religion. By supporting the UN resolution on Kashmir, the SCO may assist to foster peace and security in the region, preventing conflict and instability, ending prejudice against minorities, granting them their rights, and safeguarding them from violence. The SCO can help to prevent war and instability in the region, as well as promote full involvement of minorities in society and economic prosperity.

While referring to the SCO’s main objectives of promoting peace, security, and stability in the region, the Prime Minister stated that terrorism, extremism, and religious bigotry, in all of their manifestations, are threats to the peace, security, and stability of the SCO region and the world, and must be combated at the individual, societal, organizational, national, and global levels. This warning should be taken seriously by the SCO leadership, who should take steps to prohibit the use of terrorism, violence, and intimidation to achieve political ends. It endangers peace and security by instilling widespread fear and disorder, which leads to conflict between governments and groups. Extremism is a curse just as severe as terrorism. Extreme or fanatical political or religious beliefs are a threat to peace and security because they breed violence and intolerance, erode societal cohesion, and lead to conflict. Religious bigotry is another demon that thrives on intolerance or hatred of people of other faiths. It endangers peace and security by inciting violence and discrimination, undermining social cohesion, and causing conflict.

The SCO has taken terrorism very seriously and has put in place a variety of counter-terrorist and counter-extremism programs, including the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), which is in charge of coordinating counter-terrorism activities among member states. The SCO Interbank Consortium is in charge of countering financial crime, including terrorist financing, as well as the SCO Convention on countering Terrorism. It also promotes interfaith dialogue and understanding among its member states in order to reduce religious bigotry and intolerance, promote human rights and democracy in its member states in order to create a stable and inclusive environment, and narrow the space for terrorist and extremist groups to operate which however needs to reevaluated periodically and improved upon perpetually.

During his speech, the Prime Minister emphasized that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has the potential to strengthen connectivity, promote energy security, boost trade, create jobs, reduce extremism, and encourage cultural exchanges. CPEC, being a major infrastructure project and a key component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), can help to improve connectivity between China and the SCO’s member states in Central Asia, making it easier for people and goods to move between these countries and promoting energy security for the SCO’s member states by connecting as many SCO oil and gas producing and consuming countries as possible. CPEC will help to create jobs and economic opportunities in Pakistan and Afghanistan in general, will promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges among, and will aid in the development of understanding and trust which is critical to the SCO’s success. In addition, it will aid in the promotion of regional cooperation and economic development, generating billions of dollars in investment and creating millions of jobs, providing a much-needed boost to the economies of SCO member nations.

While stressing the formation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), the Prime Minister correctly described them as a significant tool for SCO countries to boost economic development and attract foreign investment. SEZs are important for providing the SCO with a much-needed economic and investment edge because they offer lower tax rates, special customs arrangements that allow businesses to import and export goods, simplified regulations that make it easier for businesses to operate, access to good infrastructure such as roads, railways, and airports, and access to a skilled workforce. The SCO nations can also learn from China’s experience with SEZs, where they have been very effective in attracting international investment and promoting economic development. Since its inception in 2013, the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (SFTZ) has attracted over $300 billion in global investment.

During his speech, the Prime Minister emphasized the importance of poverty eradication, and he was correct in calling on the SCO to play a significant role in assisting member states in eradicating poverty by investing in poverty reduction initiatives, promoting regional cooperation, and advocating for international cooperation to make a real difference in the lives of millions of people. To reach this crucial milestone, the SCO can implement a number of measures. It can: provide financial assistance to its member countries in order to help them implement poverty reduction programs, create jobs, and boost economic growth; support education and healthcare programs in order to improve people’s quality of life and reduce poverty; and promote good governance in its member countries in order to create a more stable and predictable environment for businesses to operate, resulting in economic growth and job creation, which can help to reduce poverty. In order to achieve its goals, the SCO will also need to provide mutual assistance, funding and grants for research projects, and developing and implementing poverty reduction programs.

The SCO leadership should take the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s words seriously, as it will undoubtedly assist to promote peace, security, and stability in the area. Terrorism, extremism, and religious prejudice are all dangers to these goals, which can be mitigated by encouraging interfaith communication and understanding, as well as advancing human rights and democracy in its member nations and addressing the root causes of these scourges. The SCO has already achieved major strides in security cooperation, such as counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. However, it could do more to cooperate on other security issues, such as border security and cyber security, combat cyber warfare and climate change as well as building trust and understanding among the people of the SCO’s member states, and addressing the root causes of conflicts, such terrorism, extremism and intolerance, poverty and inequality, and a lack of opportunity in order to become a major force for peace, security, and prosperity in the Eurasian area.