India's entry to SCO: issues, implications

After a two-year-long process, India and Pakistan on June 9, 2017, became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). While Russia backed India’s membership, China supported Pakistan’s entry into the politico-security regional organisation.

With the expansion of the SCO, the organisation would now represent over 2/5th of global population and nearly 1/5th of the world economy. India and Pakistan are the seventh and eighth members of the SCO, after China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan became member-states. India was admitted into the SCO with observer status at the 2005 Astana summit along with Iran and Pakistan.

The SCO as a regional organisation evolved from a forum for deliberations over security and economic issues in the post–9/11 environment characterised by growing ethnic nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism which were major causes of concern for Russia, China and Central Asian Republics. The SCO has served them as a useful instrument to manage Central Asia strategic environment and limit US influence in the region. But beyond that it has not been able to accomplish other objectives as a regional organisation.

Importantly, India’s growing interests in Central Asia are well-recognised by SCO members. For India, SCO membership is primarily to serve as its gateway into Central Asia. The SCO would help India in terms of territorial connectivity, promotion of economic diplomacy and counter-terror cooperation with the Eurasian bloc.

Significantly, India could gain from the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of SCO. The 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 also analyses key intelligence inputs on the movem­ents of terror outfits, drug-trafficking, cybersecurity threats and public information in the region India knows little about.

Likewise, participation in SCO’s counterterror exercises and military drills could prove beneficial to the Indian armed forces. At the same time, the SCO might provide a rare oppo­rtunity for the militaries of Pakistan and India to share several multilateral tables — counter-terrorism and military exercises – under the SCO framework, which in many ways might change the regional climate and have a positive impact on Indo-Pak relations.

Another aspect to India’s SCO membership is related to energy given that its member states account for 36% of the world's electricity, 23% of natural gas, 20.8% of crude oil and 60.2% of coal production. They also consume around 28% of natural gas, 25.2% of crude oil and 65.1% of coal.

SCO Energy Club

The SCO Energy Club brings together some of the world lar­gest energy producers — Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — with the world’s lar­gest energy consumers — China and India — in the same body. The SCO Energy Club aims to deepen energy cooperation among member states, in addition to bolster energy security and update energy strategies.

For India, the main areas of activity in the energy sector could be: modernisation of existing generating capacities and power grids; development of transport infrastructure in the region; joint development of new hydrocarbon fields and geological exploration; creation of conditions for mutual access to electricity markets and its transit; energy saving and energy efficiency; and, training and advanced training of energy specialists.

The entry of India in SCO is also reflective of the fact that the move was to enhance trade and investment ties in Central Asia. For now, India would do well to enter into the Eurasia integration path by seeking an early conclusion of a Free Trade Ag­reement with the Eurasian Economic Union to enable unhindered flow of goods, raw-materials, capital and technology.

The commissioning of the International North-South Transport Corridor along with the proposed Chabahar project would enable Indian goods to gain better access to the untapped markets of the entire Eurasian region.

Meanwhile, India should strive to benefit from its regional presence in Central Asia to track trends in security, energy, trade, connectivity and cultural interests. New Delhi should use the SCO atmosphere to build better convergence with China and Russia as well as to offset the intensity of China-Pakistan alignment which actually undercuts India’s direct access to Eurasia. Conspicuously, as an SCO member, it should be more conscious about its relations especially with Pakistan.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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