By Renu Rana:
The 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit was concluded on 10th July 2015 in Ufa, Russia. It was attended by many influential leaders such as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif among others.
SCO is a permanent intergovernmental international organization which was founded in Shanghai in 2001. It was initially set up exclusively for security cooperation but recently it has taken up political and economic dimensions as well. SCO, which has China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as its full members, is set to expand further after it made the formal announcement of the process to include India and Pakistan as its full members. India and Pakistan both would technically become SCO full members by 2016 after the completion of certain procedures.
This critical step would not only broaden the scope of SCO but also give it more democratic and diverse outline and reflects one step further in challenging the US- dominant world order. At an economic level, the enlarged SCO would ensure enhanced opportunity for multilateral trade and investment opportunities. The inclusion of India and Pakistan as full members would add the strength of another 1.4 billion people to SCO.
SCO needs India, the world’s largest democracy and third-largest economy, more than India needs it. Be it issues related to Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism, SCO acknowledges the need for India’s presence in the organisation. India’s full membership has the potential to strengthen the process of broadening the connectivity, counter-terrorism mechanisms, and economic integration. It also signifies extended engagement of SCO with south Asia.
Some repercussions: India’s entry might create tension amongst members for the quest for leadership. The India-Pakistan rivalry could prove to be dangerous for the efficient working of the organisation and result in disagreements and delays in regard to decisions on issues of common concerns. If these concerns prove to be true, it could cause grave consequences for SCO’s position in global politics, leaving it as a mere “talking shop”. These concerns need to be addressed in a timely manner so that the enlargement of the organisation can be used towards further strengthening of the organisation.
What Full Membership Could Mean For India
India has been an observer member of the SCO for 10 years (since 2005). As PM Modi asserts that India’s inclusion as full member “mirrors the region’s place in India’s future“, the implications could emerge more significant for India in coming days deciding India’s place in the region’s future. However, it might take a long time until that happens as India has many competitors, for instance, a ‘friend-turned-foe-turned-friend’ China, and ‘long-time friend’ Russia.
Strategic gains: a) It is the perfect opportunity for India to expand its role in global forums as well as regional forums beyond south Asia.
b) It is also a platform whereby India can directly address the issues of terrorism and religious extremism, which project a severe threat to its own security; other traditional and non-traditional security threats such as drug-trafficking, disaster-management, etc. However, it has to be noted that not much has been achieved in SCO with regard to terrorism. So it would be too early to judge the scale of gains for India in this regard.
c) It provides a platform for India to engage with countries which are strategically very significant to it such as Afghanistan, China, Russia, Iran and also Pakistan.
Economic gains: SCO is a platform where India can optimise its economic trade, and energy cooperation with its member countries, especially Central Asia which is a rich energy resource. In the matters of strategic transport routes, full membership to SCO may increase the chances to boost India’s trade through the Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar, which are India’s gateway to central Asia through International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
What India could lose: India should not undermine the China-Pakistan Nexus, which may prove to be a trouble to India’s interests in the organisation. Another cause of worry for India is the fact that SCO has, for long, been dominated by China’s presence, which might limit India’s influence in the region. But these apprehensions should not stop India from taking up the opportunity to broaden its area of influence and optimise its economic and strategic interests.
India’s inclusion in SCO as full member, with support from both Russia and China, the giant competitors for leadership of the region, also signals towards the beginning of a China dominated phase. There are apprehensions that China might end up claiming its superiority not only in the central Asian region but in coming years, in south Asia as well.
India’s inclusion has potential implications for the south Asian region as well. This development signifies the enhanced engagement of south Asia with its extended periphery which includes central Asia and China among others. Some concerns have also been raised with regard to China trying to strengthening its case for South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) membership. However, it cannot be denied that India and SAARC can learn from SCO’s expansion.
One significant question that one can raise: Should SAARC also open its doors to countries outside the region? As SCO is an organisation which includes China, Russia and many countries from Central Asia and now south Asia as well, it should not be compared to SAARC, which has been organised for the purpose of regional cooperation among the south Asian countries and is much more limited in its scope. There is a possibility that if a country outside the south Asian region, like China, which already shares very good relations with some small countries in the region, is included as full member, might project a threat to the stability of the region. China might also use the support from these small countries to counter balance India’s position in the region. These long-term concerns have to be taken up before reaching decision in this regard by south Asian countries. Furthermore, India needs to strengthen its’ position to tackle any future claim for south Asian domination by China using its SCO position.
Though SCO’s main thrust remains security, India’s full membership also opens the door for enhanced economic cooperation and strategic partnership with member countries of SCO, furthering India’s economic and strategic needs. No doubt, the enlarged ambit of SCO provides it a more diverse character; and also strengthens its position in its fight against terrorism, and enhances opportunity for trade which have strategic implications for the entire region.