by Nivedita Das Kundu
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has played a significant role in the region for past sixteen years. This year SCO Summit took place on 8-9 June 2017, in Astana. Expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization became inevitable due to its growing profile and significance. It was argued for many years that SCO is not ready for the expansion, however, during the SCO summit, held at Ufa (Russia), in July 2015, India & Pakistan was officially conferred full membership of the SCO. This decision indicated that SCO had considered expansion as a necessary aspect in SCO’s agenda. India shared with SCO common positions on many politico-security issues and concerns of the region. India and Pakistan has for long been trying to become full-member of SCO. The SCO’s decision to give full membership to India and Pakistan involves regional integration processes and add to SCO’s decisive role and efficiency. It is expected that SCO’s full-membership will enable both India and Pakistan to play more effective role in bringing stability in the region.
Russia has been a strong supporter of bringing both India and Iran as full members. However, for the time being only India and Pakistan were given full membership. As both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers with a history of conflict, there were concerns about their full membership. Some argued that these new members might bring their disputes to SCO making it less effective. However, the counter-argument is such that there have been disputes existed between few present SCO full members too, but that has not hampered the efficiency of the organization. According to SCO Charter, both India and Pakistan have met the criteria mentioned in SCO’s legal documents, hence, got full membership during Astana Summit. This historical decision by SCO will elevate the profile of the organisation and significantly strengthen its capabilities in various directions.
Relevance for India & Pakistan
India has maintained good relationship with all SCO members; hence, prospects for future cooperation are very bright. India’s inclusion as full member will be a significant step. India has been constantly showing its desire to play much more constructive and meaningful role in SCO. India’s economic growth, potential young demographic profile and its growing political impudence in the region can become an asset for the growth of SCO. The SCO is gradually realising its ambitious economic integration agenda, including formation of a free-trade zone and setting-up rules for the free movement of goods, services and technologies within the SCO member states. India expects to enter into the Eurasia integration path by seeking an early entry to a Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which would enable flow of goods, raw-materials, capital and technology to the regional countries easily and quickly. The International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) which was commissioned recently, will also be helpful for India to have smooth trade and economic cooperation with the regional SCO member States. It is also expected that the proposed Chabahar project would enable Indian goods to gain better access to the Central Asian region along with South Caucasus and Russia. Thus, a strong India-SCO relationship would bring major trade and investment opportunities in the region.
The SCO and India both share a common interest in disrupting terrorist networks in and around Afghanistan. India as well as, other SCO member states views Afghanistan as a crucial strategic challenge. India has shown keenness on sharing security concerns of the region with SCO and also work closely with other SCO members in Afghanistan. As most of the SCO members states shares the common border with Afghanistan, it becomes essential for SCO to maintain peace and stability in Afghanistan. Moreover, India is a major donor for the reconstruction and assistance programmes in Afghanistan. Hence, in this regard SCO appreciates India’s cooperation.
India could work jointly with SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). This is SCO’s most important institution after the secretariat. RATS work includes exchange of information and co-ordination of operations with regard to terrorist training camps and funding agencies. The RATS staffs include officials from all the SCO member states. The funding of this is shared between all the member-states including Russia and China. Over the past few years, RATS has expanded its role. It is now working for the harmonization of anti-terrorist legislation in the member-states & to fight against the terrorists and tracking the funding agencies of the terrorist bodies. India could jointly work with RATS for getting key intelligence information on the terror outfits, on the cyber security threats and also on the regional terror networks. RATS place its reports to various international forums including United Nations. Through RATS, SCO is trying to find a common position to fight against various terrorist organizations within the region. India can also maintain good relation with both Russia and China the two main pillars of SCO by becoming the full member of SCO.
Pakistan became an SCO Observer in the year 2005, along with India and Iran. Pakistan’s full membership to SCO will enable it to get easy access with the Eurasian states and with the Eurasian Economic Union and also to get connected with the Eurasian Silk Route linkages. SCO’s full membership will also enable Pakistan to get into the energy club of SCO and ensure energy security.
The SCO, over the years has become a dynamic, influential and ambitious organisation, stretching across a large part of the Asian continent. Today, SCO’s approach is to emphasize on consolidation, long-term planning and avoid marginalisation. SCO member states can cooperate with each other to fight regional as well as, global threats and concerns related to climate change, environment security and food security concerns. The SCO is expected to offer solutions to emerging security and politico-economic challenges in the region. Moreover, growing cooperation among the regional countries through SCO will also strengthen the regional mechanism.
Nivedita Das Kundu, Ph.D, in International Relations. Followed developments on SCO being part of various SCO Forums and Meetings.