The world has shrunk into a global village where all the countries are now closely connected with each other to share common interests, promote their businesses and even culture—together playing pivotal roles for strengthening these ties. Global and regional dynamics are fast changing in response to which a country has to realign its priorities accordingly. For example, Europe was predominantly relying on Russia for its energy needs but post Russia-Ukraine conflict is now looking for different partners who can help steer through this challenge. Based on the grounds of common interests different strategic blocks are being formed to promote better cohesion and fruitful partnerships between nations. Therefore, a well-directed foreign policy can yield greater economic and diplomatic dividends for any country.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an inter-governmental international organization, conceived by the People’s Republic of China, Republic of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2001. SCO is represented by some world’s biggest economies connecting countries with various governance models, civilizational codes and foreign policy frameworks. In 2017, Astana, Kazakhsthan hosted an historic meeting of the Council of Heads of States of SCO, during which the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Republic of India were granted status of member states of the Organization. The combined GDP of SCO member states is about a quarter of the global figure and member countries of SCO offer vast human, intellectual and technological potential with existence of large volumes of natural resources. SCO is a strategic forum for interaction between member countries, intending to help in overcoming their differences, consolidate mutual relationships and develop sustainable political and economic partnerships with each other.
The annual Meeting of the Council of Heads of State (CHS) of SCO was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on 15-16 September 2022 during which SCO leaders approved new initiatives like Roadmap for Gradual Increase in the Share of National Currencies in Mutual Settlements of SCO Member States. Action Plan for 2023-2027 on implementation of the Treaty provisions on Long-Term Good-Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation; Concept for Cooperation of SCO Member States in Developing Connectivity and Creating Efficient Economic and Transport Corridors.
At the SCO-CHS meeting Premier Mr. Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the principles and purposes of SCO Charter and conveyed Pakistan’s vision for the strategic direction of SCO in the face of global political and economic transformation. He deliberated with his counterparts on important global and regional issues, including climate change, food security energy security, and sustainable supply chains. During his address to the forum he shared details of the human tragedy and massive devastation caused by climatic calamity that struck Pakistan, where more than 33 million people are affected by floods and flash floods in 81 districts of Pakistan, at least 1,396 people have died, and 12,728 injured in addition to the outbreaks of diseases as cholera and dengue. It is estimated that 1.74 million houses, 22,000 schools, and 6,675 km of roads have been destroyed or damaged and 6.4 million people require immediate assistance. Pakistan’s premier presented a case for collective action by SCO members to combat the effects of climate change. The President of Uzbekistan on behalf of the Council of Heads of State of SCO appealed to the international community to support Pakistan to address the devastating impact of the floods.
Apart from highlighting climate change issue, Prime Minister of Pakistan also highlighted Afghanistan’s political and security situation and explained that the four decades of conflict in the country has impacted Pakistan. He stressed upon building cooperation for sustainable peace in that country, asked for a new pact between Afghanistan and the international community and the need for constructive engagement with the Afghan interim authorities. On the Summit’s sidelines, the Prime Minister held meetings with Presidents of China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Turkey. Pakistan can benefit from such forums by focusing on opportunities for transformation and growth in sectors like energy, environment, transport and technology.
A robust and clear-headed foreign policy has never been Pakistan’s forte with successive governments being unable to present Pakistan’s case effectively across the globe. The main factors behind our passive relations with different states is continuous interference of the establishment whose short sightedness and ad-hoc decision-making has shaken trust of our bilateral partners around the globe. During the era of General Zia-ul-Haq and subsequently General Pervez Musharraf, our foreign policy has been nothing less than strategic summersaults. Over the years, we have failed to establish relationships on the basis of bilateral trade and strategic economic interests; rather we tried to extract financial benefits by partnering in wars and conflicts.
The civilian governments of Pakistan Peoples Party in 2008-13 made efforts to explore different avenues of strengthening bilateral relationship with the world by creating a forum, Friends of Democratic Pakistan in September 2008 to stimulate global community support to deal with economic and security challenges. Its first meeting was co-chaired by President Obama with President Asif Ali Zardari. The participating states were supposed to contribute technical expertise and policy advice to the Government of Pakistan towards its strategic planning efforts. This was a great initiative for engaging the international community wherein Pakistan tried to develop better working relationships with Russia and Iran.
Subsequently, during 2013-2018 Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s government succeeded in securing landmark strategic partnership with China under China Pakistan Economic corridor -CPEC, a flagship project which can be termed as biggest economic success of diplomatic history of Pakistan as it worked as foundation for a multi-billion dollar foreign investment. We developed strong ties with Turkey as well. Moreover, during the Yemen conflict, then Premier Nawaz Sharif successfully kept Pakistan out of this regional conflict, a blend of religion and politics.
Present need of the hour is that foreign office must work on comprehensive engagements with other nations to further strengthen our bilateral relations and create new opportunities for trade and business. We must make dedicated efforts towards arrangement of cheap energy and food from regional partners and that too in their local currency to ease pressure on our dollar reserves. This would enable Pakistan to manage its critical economic position in an efficient manner without relying on conventional methods of debt sourcing and help us deal with hyper-inflationary trends.
Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate Supreme Court, specialises in constitutional, corporate, media, ML/CFT related laws, IT, intellectual property, arbitration and international tax laws. He is country editor and correspondent of International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD) and member of International Fiscal Association (IFA). He is Visiting Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).
Abdul Rauf Shakoori, Advocate High Court, is a subject-matter expert on AML-CFT, Compliance, Cyber Crime and Risk Management. He has been providing AML-CFT advisory and training services to financial institutions (banks, DNFBPs, investment companies, money service businesses, insurance companies and securities), government institutions including law enforcement agencies located in North America (USA & CANADA), Middle East and Pakistan. His areas of expertise include legal, strategic planning, cross border transactions including but not limited to joint ventures (JVs), mergers & acquisitions (M&A), takeovers, privatizations, overseas expansions, USA Patriot Act, Banking Secrecy Act, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).