What joining SCO means for Pakistan
The Foreign Office hailed Pakistan’s admission in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as “a historic occasion” and “an important foreign policy milestone”.
Pakistan’s former permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Zamir Akram, explains to Dawn the SCO’s evolution, its importance as a regional political and security bloc, and the significance of Pakistan’s membership. He also takes a look at how Pakistan-India disputes could affect the organisation.

Q: When was the SCO formed and what were its objectives?
A: The forerunner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was the Shanghai-5, which was set up in 1996 and comprised China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Then when Uzbekistan joined in 2001 it became the SCO.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union (in 1991) and emergence of the United States as the sole superpower, countries like Russia and China — the aspiring major powers — felt the need to engage and cooperate with each other to protect their interests, especially in Central Asia. The objectives of the SCO, therefore, are to protect political interests of the member countries and promote security, economic and trade cooperation between them. Over time with the emergence of a terrorist threat to these countries, counterterrorism has also become a key area for cooperation in the SCO. Another very important consideration for the SCO has been to promote regional connectivity.

Q: When and how did Pakistan first become associated with the SCO? What objectives would Pakistan like to achieve as a full member?
A: Pakistan, due to its close friendship with China and because of the emergence of independent states in Central Asia, has always been interested in promoting regional connectivity and itself as a pivotal state or as a bridge, especially for landlocked Central Asian states. Pakistan has been very much interested in projecting itself and its interests within the region. Therefore, Pakistan became an observer in the SCO in 2005.
From that time till Friday when we were admitted as a full member, it has been our endeavour to work in concert with this very important regional organisation, which represents the largest geographical bloc in the world and has also now become the biggest bloc in terms of population with the inclusion of Pakistan and India. Pakistan has acquired further importance because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). In that sense it is a tremendous achievement and also presents a big opportunity to Pakistan.

Q: Terrorism has been a major concern for the region, particularly after emergence of the militant Islamic State (IS) group. How far could the SCO be helpful in facilitating Pakistan in cooperating with other members in dealing with this threat?
A: President Vladimir Putin today in his statement recognised Pakistan’s role in counterterrorism. The Chinese also acknowledge that. In fact Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are highly concerned about the emergence of IS in their neighbourhood. The SCO would provide a platform for all of us to work together. Moscow has hosted a regional conference on Afghanistan and it was also part of this effort. Pakistan wants to work with SCO partners for countering the terrorism threat in the region. Unfortunately, India talks about terrorism, but is involved in promoting terrorism in Pakistan by using Afghanistan’s territory, where they are supporting Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and funding terrorism in Balochistan. I expect that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would have raised this concern with SCO partners.

Q: Pakistan and India have assumed full membership of the SCO together. Would their confrontation weigh down SCO’s activities and impede the realisation of its objectives?
A: Pakistan will respect, as it has always respected, the mandate and parameters of organisations that it is part of. We will not use the SCO to find solution for disputes with India, just as we have not used Saarc or other regional forums to find solutions for disputes with India. There are of course other international organisations, the UN and its various organs, for instance. Moreover, we are ready to engage with India in a bilateral dialogue on those disputes.
However, what can happen is that with the SCO providing a platform for regional cooperation and connectivity, it can contribute to better relations between Pakistan and India. If that happens, it will improve the prospects for resolution of our bilateral issues as well. Unfortunately, India does not look at the SCO in that context. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement at the SCO today illustrates that. He used the platform to castigate Pakistan. On one hand, they say disputes with Pakistan are not international or multilateral, but then they use multilateral forums for raising bilateral complaints. India should realise that if it wants peace with Pakistan, the SCO provides a platform for achieving that.
No level playing field

The latest report compiled by Save the Children titled Stolen Childhood, ranks Pakistan 148th among 172 countries in providing a suitable environment for children’s growth. Pakistan has also been identified as a country with the largest percentage of children with stunted growth.
According to this new global index, Pakistan’s regional neighbours India, Iran and China stand ahead with 116th, 80th, and 41st positions, respectively. Afghanistan is 152th on the list.
The report launched last week the world over identifies Norway, Slovenia, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Ireland, Iceland, Italy and Belgium as the safest countries for children in the world. It places Niger, Angola and Mali among the worst countries for children to experience childhood.
The End of Childhood Index focuses on a set of life- changing events that signal the disruption of childhood. It ranks 172 countries based on where childhood is most intact and where it is most eroded. The indicators used to measure the end of childhood are: under-5 mortality, malnutrition that stunts growth, out-of-school children, child labour, early marriage, adolescent births, displacement by conflict and child homicide.
This new global report — first in an annual series — takes a hard look at events that rob children of their childhoods. These “childhood enders” represent an assault on the future of children. Childhood should be a safe time of life for growing, learning and playing. “Every child deserves a childhood of love, care and protection so they can develop to their full potential. But this is not the experience for at least a quarter of our children worldwide,” the report highlights.
The report states that Pakistan performed worst on growth stunting where out of 10.7 million children, 45 per cent of under-5 children suffer from diseases. Though India has higher number of such children, 48.2 million, in term of percentage it is 39.
Stunted growth is caused by chronic malnutrition in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from the start of pregnancy to age 2). Chronic malnutrition at this stage of life is largely irreversible, and stunted children face a lifetime of lost opportunities in education and work.
According to the report, the mortality rate of under-5 children is 81.1 out of 1000; 45 per cent have stunted growth, and 42.5 per cent children are out of school at primary and secondary level. These percentage and figures are considered “very high” in the report.
In the category of ‘Child as a Victim of Extreme Violence’ child homicide rate is 5.4 out of 100,000 population aged 0-19, which is again alarming according to global standards.
For at least 700 million children worldwide — and perhaps hundreds of millions more — childhood ends too soon because of poor health, conflict, extreme violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, malnutrition, exclusion from education and child labour.
The majority of these children in such endangered environments live in disadvantaged communities. Many suffer from a toxic mix of poverty and discrimination – excluded because they are female, refugee, ethnic minority or disabled. These threats to childhood are also present in high-income countries. All countries, rich and poor, can do a better job of ensuring every child enjoys the right to a childhood.
The report indicates 156 million children under age 5 in the world are stunted. In 2000, there were 375 million children and youth out of school. Today, that number has been reduced to 263 million, which is one in six child worldwide. The global number of child labourers has declined by one-third since 2000, but an estimated 168 million children are still trapped in this menace, forced to work to support themselves and their families.
More than half — some 85 million children — are do hazardous work that directly compromises their physical, mental, social and/or educational development. This number of children is higher than the number of children living in Europe (138 million). While, according to the latest global estimates, 25.9 per cent of girls are married by age 18 and 7.5 per cent are married by age 15. One in six school-aged children around the world is out of school, one child in 80 are forced to leave home in conflict areas, 160 million children in the world are involved in child labour. Over 16,000 children die beforetheir 5th birthday, mostly of preventable or treatable causes.