India in SCO

INDIA, along with Pakistan, has joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as full members at the Astana Summit meeting held in Kazakhstan. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif represented their countries on this important occasion. 

The SCO was formed in 2001 consisting of six countries: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  The SCO was primarily a security alliance set up with the goal to counter terrorism, separatism and extremism.  In 2002, it adopted a charter which talked of promoting cooperation in politics, trade, economy, technology and to make joint efforts to promote peace, security and stability.  The SCO has a secretariat in Beijing and a Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) based in Tashkent. 

For India, joining the SCO would mean getting more access to the Central Asian Republics which are rich in energy and mineral resources.  It will facilitate India’s economic, trade ties and connectivity with the heart of Central Asia and thereby enhance its linkages with Russia and China at the economic level.

India became an observer at the SCO in 2005.  However, its participation in the SCO was hesitant and half-hearted given the growing strategic and military ties with the United States of America during the Manmohan Singh government. However, the strategic interests of integrating with the Eurasia landmass gradually prevailed and India applied for full membership to the SCO in 2014.

It is good, therefore, that India has become a full member of the SCO and not let the narrow prism of its differences with Pakistan and China stand in the way of doing so. However, there is a confused understanding in the Indian establishment about the membership of the SCO and inherent contradictions due to the direction of foreign policy and strategic relations pursued in the past one and a half decades. India has forged a growing military collaboration with the United States of America and is now treated by the United States as a “major defence partner”.  The SCO is a security alliance which excludes the United States and does not subscribe to the US geo-political strategy in Asia. 

The Modi government had enthusiastically joined up with the US pivot to Asia under President Obama. Now with the uncertainties attached to the Trump administration’s strategic outlook, the membership of the SCO is an appropriate  time to start reducing the military and security ties with the US.

India has come out against the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) of China. All the other seven countries of the SCO are partners of the BRI and have endorsed it.  India will be the odd-man out.  It would be better for India to revise its stance and find ways to cooperate with the One Belt One Road project which has Central Asia at the heart of it. 

Being together on the joint platform of the SCO with Pakistan and China should induce some re-thinking on the Modi government’s confrontationist and negative stance towards both these neighbours. 

Prime Minister Modi exhibited a degree of realism when a few days before the SCO summit he spoke at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, wherein he stated: “It is a true that we have a border dispute with China.  But in the last 40 years, not a single bullet has been fired because of border dispute”.   He went on to state that under the BRICS framework, China and India have cooperated to set-up two financial institutions. 

The SCO is widely concerned with providing regional stability and security. It can play an important role in dealing with the intractable conflict in Afghanistan.  India should be able to use this forum in a constructive manner.  An important part of this would be to find ways and means to resume political negotiations with Pakistan. It is the India-Pakistan conflict and hostility which has crippled SAARC. Hopefully, being together in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would mark a beginning in the reversal of this bitter and conflicted relationship. 

(June 13, 2017)

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