Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which today has an ambitious regional and global vision, coupled with a strong economic mandate. The expansion of SCO last year to include India and Pakistan now makes this a powerful and strategic regional grouping, accounting for 40% of the world’s population, almost 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 22% of the world’s land mass.
The main objectives of the SCO are to:
- strengthen relations among member states;
- promote cooperation in political affairs, economics and trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection;
- safeguard regional peace, security, and stability; and
- create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order.
For India, the membership of the organisation can be expected to be hugely beneficial. India enjoys millennia old cultural, economic and civilisational links with countries of Central Asia.
- India being energy deficient country with increasing demands for energy, it is an assured market for the resource rich Central Asian countries and Russia.
- SCO membership could help advance talks on the construction of stalled pipelines like TAPI (and possibly IPI later), CASA (Central Asia-South Asia)-1000 electricity transmission projects which is of considerable importance to India’s natural energy needs.
- Another development related to India’s energy requirements is the proposed Russian idea of an ‘Energy Club’ for deepening interactions between producers (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Iran) and consumers (China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Pakistan and Mongolia) while shaping a common energy system in both the regional and global contexts.
- Within this framework India and Russia are exploring a possible hydrocarbon pipeline route through North-West of China.
- For their part, Central Asian countries provide India with a market for its IT, telecommunications, banking, finance and pharmaceutical industries.
- Thus, membership in SCO will help deepen economic times between India and the Central Asian countries and eventually even result in a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union.
- SCO also provides a stage to India for achieving some of its foreign policy goals. Membership in SCO is likely to help India fulfill its aspiration of playing an active role in its extended neighbourhood as well as checking the ever growing influence of China in Eurasia.
- SCO also provides a platform for India to simultaneously engage with its traditional friend Russia as well as its rivals, China and Pakistan.
- Moreover, SCO membership would also enable India to hinder any attempt of Pakistan to use the SCO forum for mobilizing support for its anti-India activities.
- Further, it will help India engage the Central Asian Republics (CARs) on a regular basis every year, something which has proved rather difficult in a bilateral format.
- Finally, as a member of an organisation whose influence is growing steadily, India would be able to attain a robust position in the world.
- Firstly, since China and Russia are co-founders of SCO and its dominant powers, India’s ability to assert itself would be limited and it may have to content itself to playing the second fiddle. In addition, India may also have to either dilute its growing partnership with the West or engage in a delicate balancing act.
- Secondly, except India, all the other members of SCO have endorsed China’s BRI initiative. India’s primary concern is related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), a region over which India claims sovereignty but which has been under Pakistan’s occupation since 1947.
- In this regard, if in future the economic policies of SCO come to be associated with the BRI network of roads and transportation, then India would face a dilemma and even a policy setback.
- Thirdly, given the state of relations between India and Pakistan, many assume that the spotlight would shift away from Central Asia towards tensions in South Asia, thus making regional cooperation hard to foster.
- Many anticipate that just like SAARC, India-Pakistan rivalry would be a significant threat to the proper functioning of SCO too. In this case, with the rising tensions and numerous cease-fire violations on the Line-of-Control (LoC), it is hard to assume how the two neighbours would adhere to the idea of “good-neighbourliness” prescribed in Article 1 of the SCO charter.
- With regards to RATS, India might face difficulties as the Indian understanding of terrorism is different from the other members of SCO. For SCO, terrorism coincides with regime destabilization; whereas for India it is related to state sponsored cross border terrorism.
- SCO’s targets are groups like East-Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Al-Qaeda, whereas groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaiesh-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network do not come under the ambit of the SCO anti-terror structure.
- The SCO has traditionally adopted a clear anti-Western posture. It is important for India to identify itself distinctly and avoid such rhetoric, which the SCO promotes.
Indian’s benefits from the SCO will be limited due to the role of China and Pakistan in the organization. Positive outcomes will depend on how Indian diplomacy deals with its rivals. On the other hand, India-Russia diplomatic relations will have a major role in promoting India’s interests in the SCO, and India’s cordial relations with Central Asian countries will determine the fate of India’s interests.
- India has to concede the fact that the CAR is China’s sphere of influence and India’s engagement with the region should proceed with utmost caution. Thus India’s full membership and subsequent involvement in the SCO comes with limited opportunities and many challenges.
- The government will have to walk a thin diplomatic line and adopt a careful approach while engaging in the SCO. It has to take care of its interests and remain neutral on issues which are not directly related to it.
- Robust, multifaceted ties between them and India will promote security, peace and prosperity in the region and the world. India’s membership of the SCO throws open many possibilities to achieve the huge potential of bilateral partnership.