Within two decades of its establishment, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has become one of the most renowned pan- Eurasian groupings of eight countries sharing a collective vision of socio-economic and political unity, entangled with modern-day developmental goals. Member states to the SCO comprise India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, along with four Observer States and Six Dialogue partners.
In the Eurasian vacuum as a successful regional organization, the SCO accounts for more than 60% of the Eurasian territory, 40% of the world’s population and 1/4th of the world’s GDP. India after joining SCO back in 2017 has become a privileged member to host the Head of the Governments’ (HoG) meeting in 2020 via virtual conference to construct concrete solutions to the overarching negative consequences on socio-economic progress due to COVID19 induced worldwide stagnancy in all spheres.
The levitating popularity of this grouping certainly is a silver lining from India’s perspective when it comes to neutralizing centrifugal forces arising from terrorism and religious extremism, however frivolous amid the pandemic. One of the challenges for India in the Afghan frontier is the expected rise of Khorasan as the Western troops are no longer a participant to help neutralize upsurges and extremisms.
Secondly, India’s ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ (2012) consisting of 4C’s- Commerce, Connectivity, Consular and Community is certain to gain fuel to outreach the Central Asian markets. Trade and strategic ties entwined with civilizational linkages might reconnect and re-energize ties in India’s extended neighbourhood, through trade settlements and tariff interventions, with a surplus of soft power disposition.
The continuous meddlesomeness of China and Pakistan by the means of frequent border exploitations have posed grave threats to the sovereign identity of this country, risking lives of civilians and security personnel along with a chance of data breach from the strategic sectors to the hands of hackers culminating menace in disguise through the deep and dark web. SCO can become a comprehensive platform to engage constructively with both China and Pakistan and project India’s demand for security interests. The Indian government in the past had already eschewed meetings with China in 2020 amidst the LAC stand-off through SCO.
India’s declining interest in accepting the membership of The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and its gradual disengagement with SAARC (practically non-functional in this decade) and The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative- questions India’s consideration as a federation towards intergovernmental multilateralism. SCO stands out as a participatory and active multilateral intergovernmental pan Eurasian platform to debate, discuss and deliberate on issues such as critical energy requirements, traditional and non-traditional transportation links, trade facilitation agreements, peace and security in this region.
Given the significance and the increasing role of SCO as an emerging intergovernmental organization, India is likely to benefit in the long run, cautiously navigating through the challenges. One of them is the denial of strategic land connectivity from India through Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Eurasian far reaches. The major impediment comes in the way of India’s hydrocarbon exploration which has been hindered by the lack of connectivity.
Another stone in the lucid path is the triangular convergence of interests and a new growing equation between China, Pakistan and Russia which needs to be checked at a strategic level through diplomacy. The SCO has always promoted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Embraced by all and opposed by India – BRI triumphs over India’s concerns and establishes disproportionate influence in Central Asia.
Improving upon individual relation with Afghanistan, however a non-member state, by realizing the importance of a fully operational and strategic Chabahar port, emphasizing on strengthening ties with Pakistan and leveraging the significant project of TAPI can help in India’s progress to nullify a bit of China’s aspiration in becoming a dominant power in the South Asian region. Military cooperation to sustain security and to make a regional Anti-Terrorist structure can be facilitated in the context of increasing terrorism in the region.