The 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is significant for it saw the two South Asian powers - India and Pakistan - attending it as full-time members. Like the original six members of the grouping, India is represented by their heads of government or state - whoever is deemed more powerful.
But in case of Pakistan, it is represented at the summit by its president Mamnoon Hussain, who reached Qingdao in China on Saturday, June 9. In Pakistan, the president is the ceremonial head and not the executive head which is the prime minister. But the country now has no elected government and is under the supervision of a caretaker government led by Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk and the next elected prime minister or the head of the government will only assume office after the general elections of July 25 conclude.
How much effective is its ceremonial head's participation in the SCO for Pakistan even though the platform offers it a great many possibilities to thrive on issues pertaining to international affairs?
Hussain did his best to engage with various leaders and top diplomats and officials at the SCO but coming from a country which neither has a full-time government at the moment nor is there a consensus among various power centres, does Pakistan's inaugural attendance at the SCO summit serves any solid purpose?
Neither Hussain (the Pakistani president's wings were seriously clipped in 2010) nor the caretaker government will be able to execute effective decisions on the ground. Whatever the president learns, sees and commits at the summit will be realised only when a full-fledged PM takes charge. Pakistan realistically has a whole lot of time to waste before it can engage on serious terms. In fact, it's a missed opportunity for Islamabad apart from the routine engagements that it makes with countries like China.
For India, too, the fact that a ceremonial head from Pakistan is attending the SCO summit would also be disappointing. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a more fruitful meeting with former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif at SCO summits in Ufa, Russia, in 2015 and Astana, Kazakhstan, in June 2017.
Hussain had represented Pakistan at the SCO summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2016 when Sharif had a heart surgery. Pakistan's own media did not give it much coverage and Indian officials said New Delhi had no idea who officially represented Pakistan at the meeting. Pakistan, like India, still was not a full member of the SCO then but after it became one, it is disappointing to see it not sending an elected leader to the summit. India, on the other hand, has seen Modi visiting the summit every year since 2015.
A similar scenario in Kyrgyzstan though it is less significant
Kyrgyzstan is another country of the SCO where there is a tussle between presidential and parliamentary systems of late as to who enjoys more power - the traditional power centre of the presidency or the prime minister after the country changed to parliamentary system in 2010. But the country, which is also much less significant than a nuclear power like Pakistan in the SCO's scheme of things, is still witnessing its president wielding considerable power.