UFA (Russia) – Pakistan and India were accepted as full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Friday.

President Vladimir Putin announced on Friday that Pakistan and India would join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a group dominated by Russia and China and also including former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Pakistan’s full membership to the powerful SCO was approved by its Council of Heads of State at its 15th Summit.

Russia sees the organisation, expanding for the first time since its creation in 2001, as a counterweight to Western alliances.

Membership in the group potentially offers India greater access to the energy resources of Central Asia.

The Beijing-based SCO currently has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as members. Along with Pakistan, the process to include India as a member was initiated here on Friday.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping had earlier told a news briefing that “India and Pakistan’s admission to the SCO will play an important role in the SCO’s development and it will play a constructive role in pushing for the improvement of their bilateral relations.”

Pakistan PM calls for strong measures to counter extremism, terrorism and drug- trafficking

Addressing the summit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for a strong regional collective response to confront the challenges of extremism, terrorism and drug- trafficking.

He said the region faced a volatile geopolitical environment and Pakistan’s objectives of curbing extremism and enhancing border security were in line with those of the SCO. He said the SCO provided a useful forum to Pakistan in promoting peace and stability in South Asia, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

“Cordial and mutually beneficial economic relations with SCO-member states will be our foreign policy priority,” he said.

“We believe that regional stability is the key to economic progress of nations,” he said, adding that peace in Afghanistan and Central Asia was crucial to regional connectivity and trade cooperation. “The spirit of SCO abhors hegemony and coercion in international affairs. It has a consensus based decision-making process, which instils confidence in its members.”

The prime minister said SCO partners had an ambitious agenda to achieve and called for ensuring regional stability and further economic integration to realise these goals.

“We must work together to mitigate differences, resolve outstanding disputes and create a favourable environment for the betterment of our peoples. This is how the true Shanghai Spirit will be fully realised.”

Mr Sharif termed inclusion of India and Pakistan into the ambit of the grouping a “turning point in the history of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation”.

He said Pakistan offered critical overland and maritime routes for trade and energy connectivity within the SCO region and beyond.

China welcomes expansion of SCO

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday welcomed the planned expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and called on member states to uphold the “Shanghai Spirit” for common development, Xinhua reported.

While addressing the summit, he said China believed that admission of new forces into the SCO will inject new impetus into the organisation’s all-ranging cooperation.

The Chinese President also urged SCO member states to expand people-to-people exchanges, saying that China will invite 200 young people from the SCO member states every year to participate in a youth exchange camp program, which will be held in China from 2016 to 2021.

Separately, during his meeting with President Xi, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thanked him for the support China had extended to Pakistan to become a member of SCO.

The SCO leaders expressed the hope that Iran also would soon become a member, but said Tehran first needed to reach an international agreement on curbing its nuclear programme, Russian news agencies reported.

The SCO decided that Uzbekistan will host the 16th summit in its capital Tashkent in 2016.