ASTANA: Asian rivals Pakistan and India formally joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security bloc spearheaded by China and Russia, despite bilateral tensions bubbling over Kashmir.
Leaders of the largely symbolic body – including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping – formally signed off on the sub-continent duo’s accession at the annual SCO summit in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi reportedly shook hands and exchanged greetings late Thursday at the opening of the SCO meeting, although New Delhi said that no formal bilateral meeting between the two was planned.
Sharif on Friday thanked the founding members for their “staunch support” for his country’s entry into the organisation as a full member, which he hailed as “an anchor of stability in the region”.
Modi hailed India’s accession as a “landmark moment in the journey of the SCO” and pledged his country would play a “constructive and active role” in the organisation that also includes ex-Soviet states of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
But both Moscow and Beijing expressed optimism that the two neighbours’ entry into the SCO could strengthen prospects for peace across the region.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in his inaugural speech during the 17th SCO summit welcomed Pakistan as full member of the organisation.
Besides the above said leaders, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev, Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Afghanistan President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani, Belarus President Alexandar Lukashenk and Mangolia President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj also extended felicitation to both the new entrants [Pakistan and India] in their speeches.
Pakistan’s delegation to the SCO meeting also included Prime Minister’s Adviser Sartaj Aziz, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir and State Minister for Petroleum Jam Kamal.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his address, urged SCO member states to leave behind the legacy of peace and amity and not the toxic harvest of conflict and animosity. He said instead of talking about containment, we should create shared spaces for all.
The prime minister said with SCO members, Pakistan share historical and culture ties and linkages. He welcomed the proposal of the Chinese President Xi Jinping on the need of a long term treaty of good neighbourliness for the next five years.
Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan is not unfamiliar with the SCO but over the last decade it has developed a deep association with it as its active observer. He said we have attended all its summits and worked earnestly with all the SCO institutions such as business council.
Expressing gratitude to the member countries for supporting Pakistan’s permanent membership to the organization, he said it is a historic day for Pakistan to become the full member of the organization.
Also congratulating India for joining the SCO family, the prime minister noted that the SCO gives us a powerful platform to build trust, peace and spur economic growth.
He said it will also help us to combat terrorism, reduce arms race, fight poverty and epidemic, deal with climate change and ensure water security.
While fully endorsing the SCO resolve to eliminate terrorism and extremism, Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan has valiantly fought against the menace. “We have turned around the economic and security situation in the country” he said.
Nawaz Sharif said the expansion of the SCO is taking place at a very opportune time when mega connectivity projects such as One Belt One Road are being pursed in the region.
He said Pakistan is diligently implementing the CPEC which is the flagship project of the Chinese initiative. He said the mega project will benefit the entire SCO countries. He said the SCO expansion takes place at an appropriate time and they would be able to change the world for the better.
Other leaders’ addresses
Speaking on the occasion, President Chinese Xi Jinping highlighted the significance of `One Belt and One Road’ initiative and welcomed expansion of SCO membership with admission of Pakistan and India. He said the member states should gear up efforts for becoming part of infrastructure and connectivity initiatives.
China supports the role of SCO and stands for more exchanges among UN and other regional organizations. He said Beijing was looking eagerly to host next SCO in 2018.
Russian President Vladmir Putin also congratulated Pakistan for becoming a full-fledged member of the SCO and expressed the confidence that the expansion would definitely make it a powerful economic and political forum. The SCO’s priorities should be maintaining stability in the member states whereas scourge of terrorism could be countered by strong bonds of cooperation by targeting the mindset propagating extremism.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after its expansion, the SCO would represent about 42 per cent of the world’s population.
Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev said the SCO would open new opportunities for cooperation among the member states after admission of Pakistan and others. He urged the world and regional countries to tackle the issue of terrorism and extremism which was posing threats to the world peace.
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed upon prospects of cooperation and prosperity offered by the Shanghai Cooperation and expressed his pleasure at the admission of Pakistan as its new member.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon congratulated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over getting full membership of the SCO and expressed the hope that admission of new members would help strengthen the role of organisation.
The SCO was a good platform for regional cooperation regarding transport linkages and energy sector in the landlocked Central Asian countries, he said and highlighted the issues of terrorism and drug trafficking.
SCO history and Pak role
Founded in 1996, the SCO is viewed as a vehicle for managing competing Chinese and Russia political, economic and military interests in the strategic region.
China is championing ambitious infrastructure projects, including land and sea links touted as a revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route.
Russia, in turn, has focused on broadening its Eurasian Economic Union integration project involving former Soviet allies.
Pakistan has been an Observer with SCO since 2005 and applied for full membership of the organisation in 2010. The decision, in principle, to give membership to Pakistan was taken by the SCO Heads of States meeting held in Ufa, Russia, in 2015. The Council is the highest decision-making body of SCO which meets annually.
Pakistan fully subscribes to the SCO charter and the “Shanghai Spirit”. As an Observer, Pakistan has been actively participating in the activities of the organisation. Pakistan shares with the SCO and its member states, deep-rooted historical and cultural links, as well as strong economic and strategic relations.