Continents being defined as “main continuous expanses of the land” makes one wonder why Europe and Asia, though very much a continuous land mass has been perceived through the many centuries as two separate continents. One major reason may be that the western end of the Eurasian landmass was taking a very different turn in its development with the Renaissance, scientific and industrial revolutions and ‘modernity’ changing its economic, social and intellectual set-up fundamentally. Making the Ural Mountains the dividing line was rather an arbitrary act by geographers. British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder drew the attention to the fact as early as 1904 that Europe and Asia being one would be the future ‘pivot of history’.
It took more than a century, two world wars and the defeat of the communist system for this vision of a cornerstone of a new global of the ideological dreams to come true. Events though negative in some of their aspects greatly speeded up the process of globalization that is the precondition for a new stage of global power distribution. From a world dominated by colonialism and imperialism creating a ‘third world’, the collapse of the ‘second’, the communist system that had made the world from bipolar into unipolar, we have come in the 21st century to see the unipolarity crumbling and a new international economic and political power-sharing system coming into existence.
The first signs of Asia becoming the new pivot of history was the tremendous development of China into the world’s second-largest economy. The West, particularly the US, challenged by this development started looking East, excited by the huge Chinese market but also frightened by the enormous powerhouse. Obama’s ‘Asian pivot’ tried to turn American policy around and partake in the rapid development in Asia. He even referred to himself as the ‘first Pacific President’ but his efforts ended in abject failure.
When it became clear that the West would not keep out from what Russia considers its sphere of influence, Russia started looking east and at China, the new upcoming global power. While Sino-Soviet relations in the past had been always uneasy – to say the least, after the collapse of the Soviet Union a China-Russia rapprochement began. In 1992, the two countries declared that they were pursuing a “constructive partnership”; in 1996 this turned into a “Strategic Partnership” till in 2001, they signed a treaty of “Friendship and Cooperation.”
One major result of this development is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Founded in 2001 it is a Eurasian political, economic, and security organization, the Cooperation Organisation Charter was signed in June 2002 and came into force on 19 September 2003. According to this Charter, the organization functions as a forum to strengthen confidence and neighborly relations among member countries and promote cooperation in politics, trade, economy, and culture, to education, energy, and transportation.” Today it has broadened its focus to security-related matters and economic cooperation. It has eight member states including Pakistan and India since 2017, four observer states including Afghanistan, Iran, Mongolia and Belarus and six dialogue partners (Turkey, Sri Lanka Nepal, Cambodia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia). It is one of the main if not the major Eurasian organization uniting the combined size and significance of its membership, which represents one-quarter of the world’s population and three-fifths of the territory of the Eurasian continent, includes two nuclear powers with permanent seats (China and Russia) on the UN Security Council and three confirmed ones (India, Pakistan and Israel) not on the Council.
While SCO agenda is still evolving, this organization is important because it stipulates a new way of states dealing with each other, namely it actively notes the diversity of its members in terms of their political and economic systems, scales of diplomatic and economic prowess, religions, cultures, and geography. In noting this diversity, the SCO claims to represent a new model of inclusive regional cooperation capable of encompassing all its members.
Recuperating after the break-up of the Soviet Union but left out in the cold by the West, Russia changed its focus by developing a project of its own – the “Greater Eurasian Partnership”. Being a founding member of SCO In June 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a joint statement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, declaring the goal of “a comprehensive partnership between Europe and Asia on the basis of openness, transparency and consideration of each other’s interests, including the possibility of joining together the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, and ASEAN”.
The new developments are of great significance for Pakistan. Situated as a bridge at the crossroads of the Asian mainland between the different regions and powers, Pakistan’s special responsibility is to keep the region stable, our foreign policy commitment must mirror this. With over 1.8 billion people, South Asia has the world’s largest working-age population with a majority workforce in the agriculture sector. The workshare of the services sector has increased significantly in the past few years. Sharing borders in Central and South Asia with its four neighbors i.e. China, Afghanistan, India and Iran, and the oil-rich Gulf, this geopolitically important region’s natural resources and human capital makes the potential for growth enormous.
Our national security policy must structure the new geopolitical realities to rethink and create consensus (by public and institutional debate) about our fundamental national interests. The region’s volatility forbids our joining any bloc or having relationships with one country to the exclusion of another. Maintaining our neutral position we must not only keep the balance between our next-door neighbor Iran and an old friend Saudi Arabia but also balance our relationship between our old ally US with our new relations with Russia and our ever-strengthening bond with China. As a concept Eurasianism encourages the prevalence of regional relations over distanced ones, the SCO platform holds a promise for stability and options for negotiated resolution of crises for both Pakistan and India.
The Eurasian concept of accumulating economic power is a global-scale strategy that acknowledges the objectivity of globalization and the weakening importance of nation-states. This different scenario entails no unipolar world or united global government but offers several global zones that are not nation-states but a coalition reorganized into continental federations or “democratic empires” with a large degree of inner self-government. An alternative or multipolar version of globalization, the Eurasian Idea accepts globalization as the current major fundamental world process deciding the main vector of modern history. For Pakistan, this means that our future lies in the immediate region in the neighborhood of Asian communities.
The writer is a defense and security analyst.