Expanding the scope

Expanding the scope

INDIA IN SCO: Shanghai Cooperation Organisation's expansion may result in the grouping's wider participation and greater democratisation.

With India having joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), an additional weight to the group appears to have emerged, although it may be irritating the policy makers both in China and Pakistan. While Pakistan has also been inducted into the organisation along with India, that does not worry New Delhi.

Notwithstanding the fact that China-Pakistan axis will not permit India to avail the due benefits accruing from the organisation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet lost his solemn expectations with the organisation’s gradual expansion which may result in wider participation and greater democratisation of the grouping, thereby making it more accountable, responsible, responsive, transparent and task-oriented.

In fact, the SCO — originally constituted as the Shanghai Five in 1996 — is an inter-governmental organisation comprising of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. With Uzbekistan joining the organisation in 2001, it assumed a new nomenclature after renaming itself as the SCO in Shanghai in 2001. In addition to the six member states, now both India and Pakistan have joined the organisation. Other than these, there are four observer nations and six dialogue partners.

Earlier, the six member states occupi­ed territory that accounted for three-fifths of the Eurasian continent having a population of 1.5 billion — a quarter of the world’s population. The SCO is a gro­up originally meant to establish and spr­ead Russia’s sphere of influence in Cent­ral Asia and also a Eurasian counter to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Added with it is the recent Chinese grand strategy called Silk Road and Maritime Silk Road initiative together characterised Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a platform being used by China to promote President Xi Jinping's effort to counter the US policy of Asian rebalance. The aim is to involve Central Asian countries, mostly adversely affected by the onslaught of radical Islamists terror, to work for regional connectivity and progress.

Though the organisation was initially formed as a confidence-building mechanism to demilitarise borders with increased military-strategic and counter-terrorism cooperation and intelligence- sharing thereof, its goals and agenda have since considerably expanded. They now include intensified focus on regional economic initiatives like the recently announced integration of the China-led Silk Road Economic Belt, the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, and other political and socio-cultural measures being taken to forge common feelings of unity and solidarity in the region.

While some experts say the organisation has emerged as an effective anti-US regional bulwark in Central Asia to advance China’s strategic-hegemonic goals, others are apprehensive of likely frictions among its members which may preclude the prospects of a strong and unified SCO.

As laid out in its charter, the organisation functions as a forum to strengthen confidence and establish friendly and cordial relations among member states. The SCO has two permanent headquarters, the secretariat in Beijing and the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), in the Uzbek Capital at Tashkent.

One of SCO’s primary objectives is promoting cooperation on security-related issues, namely to combat the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. While the organisation resolves issues by arriving at decisions based upon consensus, the member-states are expected to strictly uphold the core principles of peaceful existence, non-aggression and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.

Indeed, the SCO’s regional influence is gradually spreading all over the world, writes Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Centre for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute. Member states’ penchant for pursuing “micro-age­ndas” also undermines group cohesion and sows mistrust, says Matthew Cross­ton, professor and director of the International Security and Intelligence Studies Programme at Bellevue University.

Nonetheless, the raison-d’etre of the organisation forecloses all mutual bickering at ground level because they are suffering the same agony and trauma in their routine course.

While Modi assumed full membership of the organisation, having a covert agenda to pre-empt China’s rising influence and hegemony in Central Asia and bey­ond, this attitudinal change in India tow­ards China after initial boycott of the BRI summit in Beijing is a meticulous strategy to establish India’s pre-eminence vis-à-vis China, besides ensuring cordial relati­ons with all partner nations in the region.

Since India is well-aware of Beijing’s designs to use the SCO to promote its ancient Silk Route Grand Strategy passing through the region, it has now reali­sed that boycott does not serve any purpose. India’s current strategy is now to become a member of the organisation and work from within the system to secu­re its own interests and also of the region, besides counter-balancing Beijing and also keeping Islamabad under pressure.

Indian diplomacy

"How we use our entry into the SCO will depend on the deftness of Indian diplomacy. It will certainly raise India's profile in Central Asia”, says Nandan Unnikrishnan, an expert on Russia and Central Asia at Observer Research Foundation.

Despite these challenges, the SCO has nevertheless enlarged its mandate in recent years wherein India as a founder-member of the Non-aligned Movement and also being a prominent peace-loving power in South Asia can contribute constructively in as diverse fields as peace, progress, harmony and development and regional security and stability.

While extending economic and technological assistance for development of infrastructure, New Delhi can effectively work with the cooperation of other members of the SCO for effectively wiping out terrorism and Islamist fundamentalism in the region.

Other organisational priorities are initiatives to deepen economic and energy cooperation, including establishing a bloc-wide development bank as the two South Asian nations join, the prospects for a SCO Development Bank may improve. Other organisational priorities are initiatives to deepen economic and energy cooperation, including establishing a bloc-wide development bank.

While handling China and Pakistan is undoubtedly a horrible nightmare for India, working together in the organisation may find some common meeting ground which will be fruitful for the organisation because nothing is beyond human endeavour.

(The writer is Professor, UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University, Allahabad)
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