Expanding ties

Expanding ties


The decision of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) to expand and upgrade its co-operation with countries having observer status in the grouping provides an opportunity for India to further strengthen its relations within an institutional framework with the member countries. The SCO is a regional forum with Russia, China and four Central Asian republics as its members. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia are observers.

The annual summit meeting of the organisation, held in Dushanbe in Tajikistan last year, had decided to widen its activities and consider the possibility of enlarging the membership. The latest offer, made by the defence ministers of the body who met in Moscow last week, is in accordance with it. There is a moratorium on new membership but Russia wants it to be lifted and India and Iran admitted as members. But China has not favoured the proposal and has pleaded Pakistan’s case. It was by way of a compromise that the three countries were given the status of observers.

India too has been lukewarm to the SCO and this position has coincided with its increasingly close relationship with the US. There is a security underpinning for the SCO and the members have held joint military exercises. The present proposal for upgrading of relations involves participation in the group’s defence and security activities too. But it is not a military bloc. India need not have any reservations about it because all other participants are countries with whom India either has good relations or wants to improve them. There is a perception that the SCO is a forum for countering US influence in Asia. India in any case is not an ally of the US to be wanting to protect its interests in the region and should look after its own interests.

The strategic importance of the SCO is clear from its geography and the economic and political profiles of its member countries. India will only gain from greater engagement with it. Even the new US policy is to improve bilateral relations with the SCO members in all aspects. In a world of interlocking interests multiple levels and spreads of  engagement are necessary to maximise national interests. It does not help India to be seen as aligned to the US and misaligned with the region’s major powers. New Delhi should welcome the SCO’s offer and express its keenness to develop closer institutional ties with the grouping at its summit to be held in Russia next month.

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