India's entry to SCO can change things

India’s decade-old efforts to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) have finally borne fruit. It became a full-member of the regional organisation at the just-concluded meeting at Astana in Kazakhstan. Pakistan too has joined the SCO, its membership being strongly backed by China. India’s entry into the SCO will give the organisation more say in world politics; the SCO will now represent over 40% of the world’s population and nearly 20% of global GDP. India will benefit, too. Combating terrorism, extremism and separatism is a priority for India as it is for the SCO. As part of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), India can participate in its joint exercises in fighting terrorism, maintaining a data bank of terrorists etc. This could open a direct channel of communication between Delhi and Islamabad’s military on counter-terrorism issues. If India uses this channel wisely and Pakistan is responsive, it could result in meaningful counter-terrorism cooperation between the two countries. Instead of adopting its usual approach of using global forums to name and shame Pakistan and isolate it, India should use the SCO to work with Pakistan on countering terrorism. It is important that India and Pakistan refrain from bringing their disputes to the SCO as that would leave the organisation as dysfunctional as Saarc.

As a member of the SCO, India should focus its diplomatic energies on improving connectivity and expanding trade with Eurasia, a region that is rich in natural resources and a market for Indian goods. It will enable India to give meaning and depth to its Connect Central Asia and Look North policies. With Iran, too, expected to become an SCO member soon, Delhi and Tehran could join hands to draw SCO member states into participating in the Chabahar trade and transit corridor and even the International North-South Transport Corridor project.

Of course, India’s participation in the SCO deliberations and activities is unlikely to be a smooth ride. The SCO is a China-dominated organisa­tion. China’s robust support of Pakistan is well known. While Russia has been a long-time friend of India, Moscow’s ties with Pakistan and China are warming rapidly, including on issues where their positions are at odds with that of India. Resolutions expressing support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India opposes, can be expected in the coming years and India could find itself isolated on this question. It will need to take a nuanced approach then, supporting the larger aims of BRI while distancing itself from the China Pakistan Economic Corridor leg of this initiative, which runs through Pakistan Occupied Ka­shmir. This will require some nimble-footed diplomacy.

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