Pakistan’s ascent to the status of full membership of SCO on 24th June, 2016 increased its regional importance by making it a determinant of peace, security and efficient cooperation among the member and observer states of SCO that cover a quarter of the entire planet’s population. Pakistan, an observer state since 2005, had applied for full membership in 2010 and its request for membership was approved in principle in 2015. The grant of membership had instigated much debate because the observer states were very problematic and had heavy political baggage. China had been pushing for expansion whereas Russia appeared to be disinclined especially with regard to Iran and Pakistan. Pakistan faced strong hostility from the Central Asian countries due to the presence of Islamist activists in Pakistan and Pakistan’s less than convincing effort to distance itself from Afghanistan’s Taliban in 2001. The unresolved Kashmir issue must also have acted as a reason for the delay in the ascension. Operation Zarb-e-Azab being successful in wielding out terrorists paved the way for full membership status of Pakistan. Projection of SCO as a major forum in world affairs was a diplomatic concern that served as a rationale for the grant of ascension to Pakistan and India, both of them being nuclear powers.
Full membership means a lot of gains for Pakistan in terms of resolution of boundary dispute with India, economic growth and regional stability. Resolution of border issues was the initial purpose of SCO and the organization’s extensive experience will improve Indo-Pak relations which will be a boon for both the neighboring countries as well as for the SCO because if Pakistan is to become an energy corridor through the Russian backed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, India should have healthy relations with Pakistan. Pakistan cannot become an energy corridor without good relations with Afghanistan that can be established with the help of SCO.
India cannot extend its trade to Central Asia without a friendly Pakistan. Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) can help Pakistan further develop its anti-terrorism capabilities by helping Pakistan institutionalize anti-terrorism cooperation in a more comprehensive manner and on a much wider scale. The SCO’s vast landmass of 30 million 189 thousand square kilometers having 17.5% of world’s proven oil reserves and 47% of known natural gas reserves opens up a whole new dimension of economic growth for Pakistan. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will not only entertain increased trade and investment from China but through all SCO member states. The SCO membership could also pave the way for the completion of Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.
Economic potential and the strategic location of Pakistan makes it valuable for the SCO members and with the prospects of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey joining, SCO is likely to become a very strong regional organization. This ascension will boost Pakistan’s efforts in dealing with the menace of terrorism, achieving economic stability and to have good relations with neighbor states.