After winning a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council and a re-election to the board of the UN’s cultural organisation, Pakistan will now press its case for full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Currently, Pakistan holds the status of an observer in the 10-year-old organisation along with neighbours India and Iran.
“I will present the country’s case at the SCO forum and will seek full membership for Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters before leaving for the two-day summit that is due to open on Monday (today) in the Russian city of St Petersburg. Russia is the grouping’s founding member.
China’s official news agency Xinhua quoted the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as saying that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the 10th meeting of the prime ministers of the member states. Premiers of other SCO members – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – and representatives of SCO’s observer states Mongolia, Pakistan, Iran and India will also attend.
Pakistan had applied for full membership of the SCO in 2006, while Iran and India followed suit in 2007 and 2010 respectively.
Prime Minister Wen, at a press conference in Beijing last week, said that according to an agreement reached at by heads of member states at the Astana Summit earlier this year, teams of experts are working to iron out technical and financial issues pertaining to the expansion of SCO.
“The forum will focus on security and economic issues. SCO countries will discuss regional infrastructure, connectivity, energy projects and various other areas of mutual interest,” Gilani said. He said he will meet the Russian premier for the third time and gas imports and issues related to Pakistan Steel Mills will come under discussion.
Energy-starved Pakistan stands to gain a lot by becoming a full member of the group. The bilateral investments in the group, mainly in the energy sector, have already surpassed the $15 billion mark and gas reserves of Russia, Central Asian States and Iran comprise 50% of the world’s reserves.
Pakistan, as a member of the SCO, can fully realise the potential of the organisation in connecting China and Central Asian member states with the Gulf countries and South Asia. Pakistan has already offered its Gwadar Port and other land routes as means to that end.
“Pakistan signed a transit trade agreement with Afghanistan and we are trying to expand commerce with Central Asian states,” Gilani said.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2011.