UFA (Russia): President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday that India and Pakistan would join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a group dominated by Russia and China and also including former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Pakistan’s full membership to the powerful SCO was approved by its Council of Heads of State at its 15th Summit.
Russia sees the organisation, expanding for the first time since its creation in 2001, as a counterweight to Western alliances.
Membership in the group potentially offers India greater access to the energy resources of Central Asia.
Sharif meets Xi Jinping, Ashraf Ghani on sidelines of summit
Mr Putin opened the annual summit by announcing the acceptance of India and Pakistan as members. He said Belarus would obtain observer status, joining Afghanistan, Iran and Mongolia, while Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia and Nepal would be welcomed as “dialogue partners”.
The SCO leaders expressed the hope that Iran also would soon become a member, but said Tehran first needed to reach an international agreement on curbing its nuclear programme, Russian news agencies reported.
Mr Putin said some of the greatest security threats facing the region emanated from Afghanistan, noting the increased activity of the self-styled Islamic State group. He said the leaders agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation and to work together to fight drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
The Russian president also talked about plans to deepen economic and trade ties.
Nawaz Sharif's call
Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for a strong regional collective response to confront the challenges of extremism, terrorism and drug- trafficking.
He said the region faced a volatile geopolitical environment and Pakistan’s objectives of curbing extremism and enhancing border security were in line with those of the SCO. He said the SCO provided a useful forum to Pakistan in promoting peace and stability in South Asia, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
“Cordial and mutually beneficial economic relations with SCO-member states will be our foreign policy priority,” he said.
“We believe that regional stability is the key to economic progress of nations,” he said, adding that peace in Afghanistan and Central Asia was crucial to regional connectivity and trade cooperation.
“The spirit of SCO abhors hegemony and coercion in international affairs. It has a consensus based decision-making process, which instils confidence in its members.”
The prime minister said SCO partners had an ambitious agenda to achieve and called for ensuring regional stability and further economic integration to realise these goals.
“We must work together to mitigate differences, resolve outstanding disputes and create a favourable environment for the betterment of our peoples. This is how the true Shanghai Spirit will be fully realised.”
Mr Sharif termed inclusion of India and Pakistan into the ambit of the grouping a “turning point in the history of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”.
He said Pakistan offered critical overland and maritime routes for trade and energy connectivity within the SCO region and beyond.
During a meeting with Mr Sharif, Chinese President Xi Jinping said relations with Pakistan were “very high on China’s agenda”.
He said China wanted to maintain close ties with Pakistan and was looking forward to President Mamnoon Hussain’s upcoming visit to China.
President Xi invited Mr Sharif to the next SCO meeting to be held in Beijing this year.
The prime minister said friendship with China was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy. He praised President Xi’s personal commitment to the objectives of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
During his meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Prime Minister Sharif reaffirmed Pakistan’s desire to build a positive and forward-looking relationship with Afghanistan.
He expressed satisfaction that relations were on an upward trajectory and said perseverance was essential for anchoring cooperative relations between the two countries.
The two leaders expressed satisfaction over the progress made at the July 7 meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban to promote peace and reconciliation.
President Ghani praised Pakistan for its efforts to facilitate peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and expressed the hope that it would lead to a lasting peace and stability in his country.
Prime Minister Sharif invited President Ghani to jointly inaugurate the ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia Process to be hosted by Pakistan in December.
Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2015
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