Even before the U.S. and NATO forces started the withdrawal from Afghanistan, it was apparent that Pakistan was preparing for a tilt in its global allegiances. Cooperation with China was increasing exponentially and Russia tentatively reached out to Pakistan with a military deal for hardware; things unimaginable during the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The country was shifting from a foreign policy necessitated by extraordinary circumstance – the Afghan war and the subsequent Coalition invasion – towards a policy that made more sense geopolitically and economically. Pakistan ascension to the Beijing-based Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is the culmination of that tilt. Its membership not only brings advantages to Pakistan, but also lends legitimacy to the relatively young bloc; and perhaps it may even improve relations with the other new inductee, India.
The SCO started off as group designed to improve security from terrorist threats in Central Asian nations, but it is rapidly developing into a more inclusive group, with increasing economic and military cooperation between its members. It is unsurprising that analysts see it as a counterbalance to NATO and the West. This is an impression that the SCO has emphasised with Russia and China holding NATO-style war games near the Ural Mountains in 2007, and in Kazakhstan in 2010. With the inclusion of two South Asian military powers in the shape of India and Pakistan, the group can legitimately throw its weight in global matters – assuming that its members can work together.
Pakistan and India’s troubled relations remain a hurdle that prevents the group from truly operating as a cohesive unit. Both nations are unlikely to cooperate given their mutual suspicion, especially on a militaristic level. Perhaps where diplomacy has not yielded results economic compulsion will. Both nations need access to Central Asian energy markets and projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. They also want a stake in road and rail linkages across the region for their own development. The SCO may be the vehicle for such developments.