Dr. Farhat Asif 

Over the past three decades of Kazakhstan’s independence, the nation has consistently demonstrated a nuanced and pragmatic approach to regional diplomacy. Its pivotal role within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), marked by six presidencies since the organization’s inception in 2001, underscores Kazakhstan’s commitment to fostering multilateral collaboration.

Against the backdrop of an evolving geopolitical landscape and mounting global uncertainties, Kazakhstan’s assumption of the SCO chairmanship in 2023 comes at a critical juncture.

Drawing from its rich history as a founding member and its intricate involvement in shaping the SCO’s regulatory framework, Kazakhstan navigates the complex challenges of the present era with a focus on trade, security, environmental cooperation, and digital advancements.

While looking at Kazakhstan’s SCO chairmanship, it becomes evident that the nation’s unique geopolitical position, economic foresight, and commitment to sustainable development position it as a key driver for regional cooperation.

This leadership role of Kazakhstan goes beyond regional concerns, embodying Kazakhstan’s aspiration to contribute to a more cooperative and harmonious global order. The SCO, under Kazakhstan’s Chairmainship stands as an academic case study in effective multilateralism, showcasing the delicate balance required to address multifaceted challenges while advancing the shared interests of member states.

SCO has evolved over the past 22 years into a formidable regional entity with profound geopolitical and geoeconomic significance. Encompassing a vast geographical span covering 60% of the Eurasian landmass, the SCO’s influence extends over a population of 3.2 billion, constituting a quarter of the world’s global GDP.

The organization comprises nine permanent members, including major players like China, Russia,  Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and its reach extends further through four observer states and nine dialogue partner states across Asia, Europe, and Africa. SCO stands out as a pivotal forum with strategic importance, hosting four nuclear powers – Russia, China, India, and Pakistan.

As Iran’s potential membership looms, the SCO’s geopolitical and geostrategic relevance is poised to grow exponentially. The organization’s economic prowess, representing 40% of the world’s population and contributing over $23 trillion to the global GDP, positions it as a key player in shaping the future of regional and global cooperation.

The SCO’s unique advantages lie in the geographical connectivity of its member states, offering opportunities for transit and transport, and the complementarity of diverse member economies.

Kazakhstan’s assumption of the SCO chairmanship marks a pivotal moment in the organization’s trajectory. Over the past 30 years, Kazakhstan has consistently exhibited a commitment to fostering regional diplomacy, playing a foundational role in the SCO’s establishment.

As it embarks on its sixth term holding the chair, Kazakhstan faces the challenge of navigating a complex web of geopolitical, economic, and security issues.

President Tokayev’s vision, outlined during the virtual summit in July, emphasizes a renewed commitment to the “Shanghai Spirit” based on mutual trust and open dialogue.

The presidency’s primary focus lies in enhancing regional security by addressing the threefold challenges of extremism, terrorism, and separatism, while simultaneously upholding the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. Kazakhstan’s multifaceted approach extends to economic realms, where it seeks to unlock the SCO’s full potential by overcoming barriers to collaborative projects.

Proposals such as the creation of a joint Investment Fund, utilizing the Astana International Financial Centre, highlight Kazakhstan’s dedication to translating economic aspirations into tangible outcomes.

Furthermore, the emphasis on the transit and transport sector, energy security, and digital transformation underscores Kazakhstan’s proactive stance in steering the SCO toward a future characterized by sustainable development and innovative cooperation.

As Kazakhstan hosts over 80 planned events during its presidency, culminating in the SCO Summit in July 2024, the country is playing its formidable role  of shaping the SCO’s narrative for inclusive development and creative progress in the years to come.

Kazakhstan’s geograpcial position is also important helping it to make the most of making the connection amongst the regional players to harness the growth and development in ther egion.  With ambitious projects like the China-Europe rail transport network, the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), and the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway on the horizon, Kazakhstan envisions leveraging its geographical advantage to enhance connectivity and trade.

The China-Europe freight train services, a crucial component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), have witnessed substantial growth, reflecting the increasing demand for efficient and expedited cross-continental logistics.

The TITR, still in development, holds tremendous potential as a multimodal corridor, offering alternative routes and reducing dependence on traditional pathways. The completion of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway in 2025 is anticipated to further strengthen trade links between East Asia and the Persian Gulf, marking a significant milestone during Kazakhstan’s SCO chairmanship.

As we look ahead to the SCO Summit in July 2024, Kazakhstan’s leadership offers a unique opportunity to propel the organization into a new era of inclusive development, creative progress, and mutual responsibility. The intricate interplay of diplomatic finesse, regional expertise, and a commitment to shared goals positions Kazakhstan as a guiding force in steering the SCO towards a future marked by security, peace, and prosperity.

*The writer is President, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies and has a PhD in International Relations with thesis on “Pakistsan’s Membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation: Scope and Oppertunities for Public Diplomacy” from Quaid-I-Azam University. 

*IPDS has undertaken significant initiatives to foster collaboration and understanding within the framework of the SCO. With a strategic focus on specific regions and issues, IPDS has spearheaded the establishment of the Pakistan SCO Friendship Forum, delineating nine thematic areas to encourage robust contributions from Pakistan in building a formidable presence within the SCO. The creation of the Centre for SCO Studies, in close collaboration with Muslim Youth University, exemplifies IPDS’s dedication to in-depth research and academic exploration. IPDS has further bolstered SCO engagement by organizing a Diploma Course on SCO in cooperation with NUML University engaging Diplomatic Missions of the SCO Member countries  successfully completing two batches, and contributing to the academic discourse on SCO-related matters through various publications. Strengthening international ties, IPDS has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with key stakeholders, including the SCO Centre for Public Diplomacy Uzbekistan, Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Commission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of the People’s Republic of China, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Expressing keen interest in expanding its networks, IPDS aims to deepen its engagements in Kazakhstan. Through its publications like The Diplomatic Insight (TDI) and the Journal of Peace and Diplomacy (JPD), IPDS  is committed to promoting Pakistan’s image of peace and diplomacy, contributing to a nuanced understanding of regional dynamics within the SCO. 

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