On 9 June, Astana hosted a historic event: the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has become a G8 by accepting India and Pakistan as full members. On 15 June, the SCO's birthday, the ceremony of raising the two countries' state flags was held at SCO Headquarters. SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov, who attended the ceremony, told us about the significance of the SCO expansion.
Question: How did the SCO come to this event? What kind of an organisation has it become now?
Rashid Alimov: Granting the Republic of India and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan full membership in the organisation is really a historic event that opens a new page in the SCO's development. It should be noted that the SCO and both of these countries have been heading towards this for many years. The SCO was established in Shanghai on 15 June 2001 and has gone, during the years, through several stages of institutional development, creating a legal and contractual framework for a broad multilateral cooperation.
The founding states have worked methodically to adjust and launch practical cooperation institutions that can maintain peace and stability and deal with new challenges and threats. It has also been important to create a foundation for economic and humanitarian cooperation.
Question: What has been the main landmark on this path?
Rashid Alimov: In 2002, the SCO Summit in St Petersburg approved its constitution, the SCO Charter. This became the main point of orientation, both theoretical and practical, in efforts to establish multi-level cooperation. The charter promulgates the principle of openness, which implies that the SCO can be joined by new member states on an equal basis, provided they share its goals and cooperation principles. Early on, it was also important to format internal organisational work, get used to each other, if you will, to create an atmosphere of trust and fulfill the effective agreements that the organisation was based on. I should say it was difficult and painstaking work that took much time and required a focus on the details and aspects of multilateral and multi-level cooperation within the SCO framework. The organisation developed under its own steam and gradually joined the architecture of international relations.
Question: Can you tell us more about the SCO principles?
Rashid Alimov: The SCO's operation is based on the ideological and philosophical principles of cooperation as set out in the SCO Charter. It is thanks to the clear and transparent principles of cooperation based on the Shanghai spirit, which has won wide repute in the world, that the SCO has taken its place in the system of international relations and enjoys high international status and prestige. The SCO's achievements are evidence of its effectiveness as an organisation for cooperation between big and small countries, and its model of partnership offers a unique system of views on the development of international interaction.
Taken together, this has attracted international attention and interest. It is logical that neighbouring Eurasian countries are especially interested in cooperation with the SCO, and many of them declared their intention to develop this cooperation during the organisation's inception. India and Pakistan, respected and influential South Asian countries, were among the first to do so. They received observer status at the Astana Summit in 2005 and joined in our efforts.
Question: It took the SCO a long time to decide to expand, but it happened rather unexpectedly. What prompted this decision?
Rashid Alimov: There were necessary pre-requisites for SCO expansion and its charter principle of openness to enter the implementation stage. The most important element is that the organisation has evolved as an efficient and balanced multilateral cooperation organisation based on the principles of equality and mutual understanding. In addition, the SCO member states have created a model of partner relations that is better suited for dealing with complicated conceptual challenges. Accordingly, the key problems are addressed not through strict regulation and hierarchy, but through the coordination of joint efforts and operational procedures.
Quite a few organisations are dominated by strong powers. The SCO has created a model where the dominant role belongs to substantiated discussions and an equal dialogue. India and Pakistan have cooperated with the SCO for 12 years as observer states, working consistently towards strengthening and deepening their relations with it in all of the key areas. I believe that this is the best proof of their intentions, and this was the main argument in favour of giving them full SCO membership.
Question: What exactly have India and Pakistan done to join the SCO?
Rashid Alimov: In the year since the Tashkent Summit (2016), these countries, in cooperation with the SCO founding states, have done a great deal to formalise their accession. In particular, they have acceded to all SCO documents and have pledged to make a constructive contribution to the common work.
Question: What is the result of this?
Rashid Alimov: The SCO is a powerful trans-regional structure of eight member states with a combined population of over 44 percent of the world's total, the majority of them young and economically active people. Thanks to its geographical location, the SCO has become a natural link between Asia Pacific and the Atlantic region, South Asia and the Middle East. This offers broad opportunities for the further development of relations with the ASEAN nations.
The SCO now has four nuclear powers, or half of the states with nuclear weapons. Objectively speaking, the SCO is a major regional association whose efficiency will influence not just the situation in the region but also in the rest of the world. This is especially important for the fight against international terrorism.
Question: Will the accession of India and Pakistan complicate the SCO's work?
Rashid Alimov: It is true that the SCO has more responsibilities now because it brings together almost half of the world's population. Hence, prosperity and the wellbeing of our people will be at the top of the eight member states' agenda.
The conditions for this are very good. First of all, economic processes are gaining momentum in Eurasia and the neighbouring regions, where countries are working to implement national economic development programmes. Also, the global economic centre is moving to Asia, which is an objective reality. This, as well as the huge combined consumer market of the SCO member states, the modern technologies they are using and the resources and industrial facilities they have, offer the organisation unprecedented opportunities.
Question: Does this mean that the SCO will gradually shift the focus of its activities to economic issues?
Rashid Alimov: I believe that the combination of the member states' individual and relative advantages will have the cumulative effect of creating equal and common advantages for the sustainable economic development of the region as a whole.
Question: But the SCO has more than just economic issues on its agenda.
Rashid Alimov: The eight SCO member states have a vast cultural area with nearly 15 percent of global cultural landmarks from UNESCO's World Heritage List. This makes the cultural component of our organisation richer and brighter, and our cultural cooperation more interesting and appealing. We will continue to strengthen our cultural ties by learning more about each other's culture and traditions, which is the best part of our work. In short, the accession of India and Pakistan has made the SCO stronger in all areas of cooperation. We have much joint work ahead.
Interviewed by Andrei Kirillov