Engage China

Engage China

The 10th anniversary meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) at Astana in Kazhakhstan this week has taken some important decisions which will change the nature and profile of the body. India and Pakistan, which till now had an observer status, will be accorded full-fledged membership and Afghanistan, which was till now a dialogue partner,  will be granted the status of an observer. The SCO, which started as a discussion forum among Central Asian countries and China and Russia, does not have any major political, economic or military agenda to bind its members together. But it has evolved as a platform for the countries of the region which have many common interests in diverse areas. It is appropriate that India and Pakistan become its full members.

India had not paid sufficient attention to the SCO in the past. The country was not well represented at its meetings. Even at this week’s meeting, while other countries were represented by heads of state, India was represented by the external affairs minister. The Indian attitude was partly the result of the feeling that China dominated the organisation. But there is no need for India to be shy of engaging China in any forum. The region represented by the SCO countries is strategically important and is vital for India. There is also the impression that the SCO will try to resist US efforts to dominate the region. An independent Indian policy requires that the country should have the best relations with all countries of the region and those who have a stake in it.

Russia had a major role in upgrading the status of India and Afghanistan in the SCO. The  role of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the SCO will be important in the context of the US withdrawal plans from Afghanistan. The organisation will have to play an active role to ensure that Afghanistan will remain stable and peaceful. The interests of SCO countries in Afghanistan are different but that itself should be the reason for them to find commonalities in mutual interest and for the sake of peace in the region. The SCO might in future evolve into a body which will have a balancing role in international affairs. Being a member of that body will give India more policy options.

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