Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L, front) and other leaders and representatives of international and regional organizations pose for a group photo before a large-range meeting of the 17th meeting of Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2017. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)
by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, June 11 (Xinhua) -- The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an influential regional security and economic block, has formally admitted Pakistan as its member, which is seen as an important foreign policy milestone for the country.
All the heads of the family members of SCO congratulated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on this historic occasion at the 17th meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO in Astana, Kazakhstan on June 9.
Sharif told the Astana summit that the SCO gives Pakistan a powerful platform for partnership to promote peace, build trust, and spur economic development for shared prosperity.
"The SCO's expansion takes place at an opportune time, as the Belt and Road Initiative transforms global economic landscape. And, in Pakistan, we are diligently implementing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is the flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative. What's more, these mega projects will benefit the entire SCO community," he said.
It is widely believed that Pakistan's accession would allow its closer cooperation with other member states, especially in security and anti-terror cooperation as many of the regional countries currently face security challenges.
Another positive aspect of the development is that India has also secured the membership at the same time that could help the two bitter neighbors improve relations.
Tensions between Pakistan and India have overshadowed the regional South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) grouping. However, it is hoped that being members of the SCO, Pakistan and India could enhance cooperation in various fields including security in view of the SCO's charter.
The SCO summit provided an opportunity for Sharif to briefly meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi amid tensions in the disputed Kashmir region, where troops of the uneasy neighbors routinely trade fire. Now the other SCO members could also use their influence to encourage Pakistan and India to peacefully resolve differences.
Pakistani political leaders and analysts are unanimous to underscore the importance of Pakistan's joining the SCO and observed that Islamabad's membership of the SCO will not only enhance regional connectivity but will also strengthen peace in the region.
Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Senate Defense Committee, said that Pakistan's membership of the SCO is a positive and timely initiative as it opens up strategic options for Pakistan's foreign policy in a regional and global context.
"Pakistan's SCO membership is also a plus for CPEC, because SCO countries are part of the Belt and Road Initiative," Hussain told Xinhua on Sunday.
"Moreover, it brings India and Pakistan at par in the emerging regional scenario, where India's attempts to isolate Pakistan have been an abysmal failure," he said.
Senator Sehar Kamran said that the membership of the SCO will help Pakistan strengthen its relations with the Central Asian states and that Pakistan has a lot to offer in this inter-regional alignment.
"The location of Pakistan provides a safe passage and a gateway for trade to the SCO member states, as well as the shortest and strategically most viable route. Pakistan provides the shortest possible trade routes to Central Asia, Gulf states and Iran on the one hand, and the Russian and Chinese markets on the other," Sehar, who belongs to the Pakistan Peoples Party, told Xinhua.
Pakistan's membership in the grouping is also significant as it could now play an active role to push for a peaceful solution to the problem in Afghanistan as the continued instability in the country is seen a security threat for all regional countries. The emergence of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan is worrisome for every county in the region.
Now being a member of the SCO, Pakistan will be willing to join hands with other regional countries to help Afghanistan work for the reconciliation process to end the long war.