Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

[pib] SCOJtEx-2019Priority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCOJtEx-2019

Mains level : SCO

  • Union Minister of Home Affairs inaugurated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Joint Exercise on Urban Earthquake Search & Rescue (SCOJtEx-2019) in New Delhi.


  • SCOJtEx is being organized with the aim to provide an opportunity to enhance the coordination & co-operation involving multi-agency operations in an earthquake scenario.
  • The four day long simulation exercise shall be conducted as per the International Search & Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) methodology & guidelines.
  • The participants of all 08 member countries namely China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan shall be participating in this exercise (Pakistan opted out).
  • On the initiative of Government of India, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is hosting SCOJtEx-2019.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

What SCO summit means for India’s global and regional interestsPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • PK Modi has departed for the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the then security and economic architecture in the Eurasian region dissolved and new structures had to come up.
  • The original Shanghai Five were China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
  • The SCO was formed in 2001, with Uzbekistan included. It expanded in 2017 to include India and Pakistan.
  • Since its formation, the SCO has focused on regional non-traditional security, with counter-terrorism as a priority:
  • The fight against the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism has become its mantra.
  • Today, areas of cooperation include themes such as economics and culture.

India’s entry to the SCO

  • India and Pakistan both were observer countries.
  • While Central Asian countries and China were not in favour of expansion initially, the main supporter — of India’s entry in particular — was Russia.
  • A widely held view is that Russia’s growing unease about an increasingly powerful China prompted it to push for its expansion.
  • From 2009 onwards, Russia officially supported India’s ambition to join the SCO. China then asked for its all-weather friend Pakistan’s entry.

How does membership of the SCO help India?

 [I] Counter-terrorism

  • These sit well with the SCO’s main objective of working cooperatively against the “three evils”.
  • India wants access to intelligence and information from SCO’s counter-terrorism body, the Tashkent-based Regional Anti Terror Structure (RATS).
  • A stable Afghanistan too is in India’s interest, and RATS provides access to non-Pakistan-centred counter-terrorism information there.

[II] Connectivity

  • Connectivity is important for India’s Connect Central Asia policy. Energy cooperation dominates its interest – and it’s in China’s neighbourhood.
  • But India will also have to deal with an assertive China, which will push its Belt and Road Initiative during the summit.
  • SCO membership also bolsters India’s status as a major pan-Asian player, which is boxed in the South Asian paradigm.

Geopolitics and play out for India

  • The US’ power struggle with China, exit from the Iran nuclear deal JCPOA which affected India’s oil imports from Iran and adversarial attitude towards Russia which delayed India’s defence purchase like S-400.
  • While US’s stance against Islamabad after the Pulwama attack was evidence of its support to New Delhi, India has had a strained relationship with China after the Doklam stand-off, followed by attempts to reset relations in Wuhan.

A cause of worry for US

  • In the SCO, India’s sitting down with less-than-free regimes, Russia and China has always had the West worried.
  • India, however, has always been tactful in not aligning with these countries on governance issues.

How does it play out in the India-Pakistan or India-China relationship?

  • In the absence of the SAARC summit, the SCO summit gives an opportunity for Indian and Pakistani leaders to meet informally, on the sidelines.
  • Both sides have the obligation not to bring in bilateral disputes, but can cooperate on issues of mutual interest and importance.
  • Signing off on joint counter-terrorism exercises will be a new form of engagement between the two militaries.
  • With China, it is yet another opening, like the BRICS summit last year, to bring down tensions, and ahead of the next informal summit in October in India.

Way Forward

  • What draws India to SCO is the “Shanghai spirit”, which emphasises harmony, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, and non-alignment.
  • The bottom-line is that it helps India keep all options open in terms of international partnerships.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Exercise Sary-Arka Anti-terror 2019IOCR


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SCO, Ex Sary-Arka

Mains level: Strategic importance of SCO


  • India, Pakistan and the other member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will take part in a joint anti-terrorism exercise to be held this year by the grouping.

Ex Sary-Arka Anti-terror 2019

  • The decision to hold the joint exercise was announced during the 34th meeting of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) council held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
  • Delegations of the competent authorities of India, Kazakhstan, China, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and the RATS Executive Committee attended the meeting.
  • Chaired by Russia, the meeting also declared plans to hold the first stage of the joint border operation “Solidarity 2019-2021”.

About RATS

  • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) is a permanent organ of the SCO which serves to promote cooperation of member states against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. It is headquartered in Tashkent.
  • Its head is elected to three-year term. Each member state of SCO sends permanent representative to RATS


Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s (SCO)

  • The SCO, in which China plays an influential role, is also comprised of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan.
  • India and Pakistan were admitted into the bloc in 2017.
  • It is Eurasian economic, political and security organisation headquartered in Beijing, China.
  • Its main objective is military cooperation between member states. It is primarily centred on security-related concerns of Central Asian members with main threats being terrorism, separatism and extremism.
  • It was established in June 2001 as a successor of Shanghai Five mechanism which was established in 1996 with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan as members.
  • Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia enjoy observer status of SCO.
  • Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Nepal are dialogue partners of SCO.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

[op-ed snap] India re-defines its regional role



Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

Mains level: The editorial summarizes India’s stance towards non-alignment amid protecting its strategic interests in the so-called multipolar world order


Setting a new tone

  1. Recent foreign policy moves by India at SCO Summit indicate an inflexion point.
  2. Combining orthodox ideas from the Cold War era along with 21st century pragmatism, it appears that India has decided that the emerging multipolar world is becoming far too complicated for the binary choices.
  3. Not only has it recast its approach to the maritime Indo-Pacific but as the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit exemplifies, it is also building deeper and more constructive links with continental Eurasia.

Our Evolving Foreign Policy for a Multipolar Order

  1. First, the central theme was that at a time when the world is facing power shifts, uncertainty and competition over geopolitical ideas and political models, India would project itself as an independent power and actor across Asia.
  2. One of the most important parts of the speech was when PM described India’s ties with the three great powers. Russia and the United States were called as partners with whom India has relationships based on overlapping interests in international and Asian geopolitics.
  3. And, India-China relations were portrayed in complex terms as having “many layers” but with a positive undertone, that stability in that relationship is important for India and the world.
  4. This implies that India will not be part of a closed group of nations or aggregate Indian power in a bloc, but will chart out its own course based on its own capacity and ideas.

India bats for Strategic Autonomy

  1. When nations stand on the side of principles, not behind one power or the other, they earn the respect of the world and a voice in international affairs.
  2. For some, this portends a renewed emphasis on non-alignment.
  3. The PM himself used the more agreeable term “strategic autonomy”.
  4. In essence, it means that India has become too big to be part of any political-military camp whose design and role in Asian affairs are being conceived elsewhere, upon ideas that India might not fully share, and where India has a marginal role in strategy and policy implementation.

The China factor

  1. Second, even as China’s rise has undoubtedly increased the demand and space for India to increase its region-wide engagement, India’s role in the vast Indo-Pacific is no longer envisaged as a China-centric one.
  2. Our PM removed any lingering impression of an impeding crusade or an ideological sub-text to India’s Act East policy in the coming years when he remarked.
  3. India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members.
  4. In other words, India’s democracy is far more comfortable with a world of diversity than the spectre of a clash of civilisations or great powers locked in ideological contests

The Way Forward

  1. Without mentioning either, PM urged both the U.S. and China to manage their rivalry and prevent their “normal” competition from descending into conflict.
  2. He made it clear that while India would pursue many partnerships “in the region and beyond”, it was not going to choose “one side of a divide or the other” but would remain wedded to its principles and values that emphasise inclusiveness, diversity and of course its own interests.
  3. After drifting towards the U.S. for the past decade, Delhi is rediscovering a posture and policy for a multipolar world as well as taking greater responsibility for its own future and destiny.
  4. Reflecting its unique geographical position at the rimland of Eurasia and at the mouth of the Indo-Pacific, India’s foreign policy is likely to be driven by a dual attention to the balance of power and order building in the continental and maritime environment around the subcontinent.



Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

India, Pakistan to take part in war games


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RATS, SCO, etc. (read the attached story)

Mains level: It will be a first-of-its-kind exercise with Pakistan.


Counter-terror drill planned in Russia

  1. In a first, India and Pakistan will be part of a multi-nation counter-terror exercise in Russia in September
  2. It will also be joined by China and several other countries
  3. The military exercise will take place under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO)
  4. The SCO is a China-dominated security grouping which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO
  5. Almost all SCO member countries will be part of it

Aim of the exercise

  1. The main aim of the exercise, Peace Mission, will be to enhance counter-terror cooperation among the eight member countries

Why is this exercise special?

  1. It will be for the first time since Independence that India and Pakistan will be part of a military exercise,
  2. though the armies of the two nations have worked together in U.N. peacekeeping missions

India as a member of the SCO

  1. India feels that as an SCO member, it will be able to play a major role in addressing the threat of terrorism in the region
  2. It is also keen on deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

India-bound gas pipeline TAPI breaks ground on Afghan section

Image source


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: TAPI project

Mains level: India’s rising energy needs and diversification needed in energy imports

Start of TAPI project

  1. Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India ceremonially broke ground on the Afghan section of the ambitious, multi-billion dollar TAPI gas pipeline
  2. It is expected to help ease energy deficits in South Asia

Completion expected by 2020

  1. The quartet aims to complete the 1,840-kilometre pipeline and begin pumping natural gas from Turkmenistan’s giant Galkynysh gas field by the beginning of 2020


TAPI Gas Pipeline

  1. The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Galkynysh – TAPI Pipeline Company Limited with participation of the Asian Development Bank
  2. The pipeline will transport natural gas from the Galkynysh Gas Field in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India
  3. Construction on the project started in Turkmenistan on December 13th, 2015
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

India joins Ashgabat agreement


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Ashgabat agreement

Mains level: Various connectivity projects across world and India’s role in them

Aceeding to Ashgabat agreement

  1. India has joined the Ashgabat agreement
  2. The agreement envisages setting up of an international transport and transit corridor linking central Asia with the Persian Gulf
  3. India’s accession to the agreement will come into force on 3 February

Decision by consensus

  1. Iran, Oman, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are founding members of the agreement
  2. These countries had signed the pact on April 25, 2011
  3. All the four founding members have consented to the accession of India
  4. India had deposited the instrument of accession with Turkmenistan in April 2016
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Indian diplomacy, beyond the canonop-ed snap

Image source


Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Bodhi Parva, BIMSTEC, two plus two dialogue,  G-20, East Asia Summit, BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Commonwealth forum

Mains level: India’s rising stature in multipolar world


Multi-directional foreign policy

  1. India’s intensive diplomatic engagements this week help us better frame Delhi’s unfolding multi-directional foreign policy
  2.  India can sit with the US and its allies one day and hold consultations with the Russians and Chinese the next
  3. This reflects a definitive pragmatism rooted in the rise of India and the emergence of multipolar world

Bodhi Parva

  1. It was a celebration of Buddhist heritage to mark the 20th anniversary of a Bay of Bengal Forum, the BIMSTEC
  2. It brings together five South Asian nations (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and two South East Asian nations (Burma and Thailand)

Idea of minilateralism

  1. Along with cultural, digital and physical connectivity, the idea of minilateralism with multiple partners has become an important theme in Indian diplomacy
  2. Delhi’s support for the renewal of the quadrilateral security dialogue marked its emphasis on ad hoc and flexible arrangements to pursue India’s interests in a more complex world

Multiple engagements

  1. Delhi is hosting the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers this week as part of a continuing trilateral engagement over the last decade and a half
  2. It then holds another trilateral forum with Japan and Australia this week
  3. This supplements the quadrilateral dialogue as well as the on-going trilateral engagement with the US and Japan
  4. Delhi is also holding the first-ever “two plus two” dialogue with Australia in which the foreign and defense secretaries from the two countries sit together

Quad is India’s answer to China

  1. Quadrilateral dialogue with the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was China’s effort to construct a “new type of great power relations” with the United States
  2. Russia is also interested in a grand bargain with America under President Donald Trump
  3. Thus, India’s commitment to non-alignment can be rested for now
  4. India needs to secure its interests in an increasingly uncertain world

Pragmatism after the Cold War

  1. Delhi looked beyond the Non-Aligned Movement
  2. The opening to the West in general and the United States in particular, the trilateral engagement with Russia and China and the quadrilateral security dialogue were all initiated and advanced by the governments led by P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh
  3. Today India is part of such diverse organizations like the G-20, East Asia Summit, BRICS, and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
  4. Delhi is now looking more positively at the Commonwealth forum that brings more than 50 members together

India’s changed position and way forward

  1. Today as one of the world’s top economies with growing military potential, India is in a position to shape the great power politics and influence the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia
  2. As the weakest among the major powers in the unfolding multipolar world, Delhi needs to advance in all directions and engage more actively with a variety of minilateral and multilateral forums
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Nepal joins SCO grouping as dialogue partner

  1. News: Nepal has become a dialogue partner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
  2. Context: Now, Nepal is able to participate in the multi-field cooperation of the SCO, which has an increasing presence in international affairs
  3. New opportunities: for the SCO’s mutually beneficial cooperation and benefit people living in the extensive region that the SCO covers
  4. Recently, Azerbaijan also officially became a SCO dialogue partner
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Russia to push for India’s membership in SCO

  1. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, founded in 2001, comprises Russia, China and some Central Asian nations and is seen as a counter to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
  2. China had also endorsed India’s bid to become a full time member at SCO and at Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum.

Discuss: In 2014, CSAT saw direct factual questions on BRICS & Arctic Council. Keep the important intl. org. in mind.

SCO & India

As of July 2015, India has been accorded full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) along with Pakistan at its Ufa summit held in Russia.

  • SCO is a Eurasian economic, political and military organisation
  • HQ: Beijing, China
  • Established: 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders 6 countries viz. China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan
  • Since 2005, India was having an Observer status of SCO and had applied for full membership in 2014. India would be finally ratified in the member list by 2016

Connecting the dots with SCO

Per Chinese and Russian scholars, creation of SCO helped address the security problems and enhance economic cooperation in the Central Asia region. The Western discourse, however, has tended to see the SCO as a mechanism to counter-balance the influence of the United States in the region. Both are correct!

SCO is considered and tagged as anti-west. Behind the veils, it is alleged that SCO is going to be a NATO like military alliance in East. You might expect a question on that line and be asked to put India’s context in place.

However, China exaggeratedly says that the SCO was founded on a principle of non-alignment and functions as an effective stabilizer for regional security and peace. China has always maintained that the focus of SCO is on combating the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and extremism – and other unconventional security menaces.

Advantage India?

There are multiple benefits for India as well as the SCO which is concerned with security and stability in the Eurasian space.

  1. India’s presence will help moderate the anti-West bias of the grouping, which will calm Washington’s nerves to a considerable extent
  2. Greater engagement with India will also aid the organisation’s capability to improve regional economic prosperity and security
  3. Membership will give India an opportunity to play an active role in China’s Silk Road initiative which plans to link a new set of routes from the north and east of the country to an old network of routes in the greater Eurasian region.
  4. Indian interest in International North-South Transport Corridor to connect Mumbai with Abbas port in Iran. This route is shorter than the existing Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea
  5. SCO may also serve as guarantor for projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipelines, which are held by India due to security concerns.

India’s entry is also likely to tip the balance of power in favor of peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Challenges ahead for SCO?

It is naive to expect that India’s differences with China regarding the border or its ties with Pakistan will magically disappear. The inclusion of Pakistan in the SCO will also make it difficult for India to enjoy a level playing field.

Pakistan, which is embroiled in a domestic political crisis, may not be so willing to challenge hardliners in its country, and go along with India in promoting peace and stability in the Eurasian space. We have seen how Indo-Pak presence in SAARC makes it difficult to ink key pacts.

The clash of interests in a post – 2014 Afghanistan makes prospects of cooperation difficult. There is also a possibility that China may collude with Pakistan to suffocate India’s voice in the decision making process.

Other than that, India will have to balance the geopolitical ambitions of China and Russia to evolve a mutually beneficial framework.

Further readings:

SCO becomes a reasonably hot topic post India’s accession to the member status. If you are comfortable with IR, try these articles  –

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