Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Astana will be historic

The upcoming meeting of the heads of member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Astana June 8-9 is important and historic. It is expected that India and Pakistan will become full members of the SCO, joining the six current member nations of the organisation – China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The significance of the accession of India and Pakistan should not be underestimated. Mark Shields, a well-known American political columnist and commentator, once said, “There is always strength in numbers.” This is, indeed, the case when it comes to India and Pakistan gaining full membership in the SCO. It will significantly strengthen the SCO’s security capabilities and enhance the political and economic aspect of the organisation. 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.

There is no denying that the world is currently experiencing serious challenges that are affecting all of us. Though Daesh is losing ground in Syria and Iraq, terrorist organisations and lone attackers still pose a significant global threat, as was demonstrated by the recent horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester, St. Petersburg, in the Egyptian desert, and elsewhere. Global terrorism is partly emanating from the spread of radical extremism. In order to defeat terrorism, international organisations will need to implement concrete steps to stamp out extremism. This will be an area of great focus for the heads of member states of the SCO when they meet in Astana.

Drug trafficking will be another priority area during the meeting. As well as hurting ordinary people, the link between terrorism and drug trafficking is evident and has been recognised by the United Nations Security Council. Indeed, drug trafficking has provided funding for insurgency and those who use terrorist violence in various regions throughout the world. It is well-known that drug trafficking is a huge problem in Afghanistan, which is a major concern for the SCO member states, whose territories are used by criminals for  heroin refining and smuggling. The SCO will need to have a thorough discussion and come up with concrete steps to tackle this problem.

It is, therefore, a welcome sign that the SCO summit is expected to produce a joint statement by the heads of state on the joint fighting against international terrorism and the Convention on countering extremism.

However, as Kazakhstan frequently pointed out, to stamp out drug trafficking originating from our region, as well as defeat terrorism, a major effort is required to develop the economies of these countries and integrate them regionally and into the global economy. Kazakhstan has been helping secure peace and stability in Afghanistan and should continue to work closely with other members of the SCO to help the country get back on its feet. In fact, all member states of the SCO would benefit from closer economic cooperation, especially taking into account the massive potential of the emerging markets, including Kazakhstan, that make up the SCO.

From its inception, the main objectives of the SCO have been to maintain peace, stability and security in the region, as well as to develop economic and humanitarian cooperation. The expected accession of India and Pakistan will undoubtedly raise the SCO’s prestige, but more importantly it will, hopefully, facilitate the achievement of the SCO’s aims.

There will be a lot of important issues on the agenda when the heads of member states convene in Astana and there is no doubt that finding solutions to some of the pressing regional problems will not be an easy task. Nevertheless, the historic significance of the meeting should provide the necessary incentive for the member states to agree upon concrete measures that will contribute to the security and development of the region.