Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Implications of India joining SCO

SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) was founded in 2001. It’s a six member group comprising- Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Pakistan Iran and few others presently have observer status. The SCO is opening membership for more members and India is very keen on joining the SCO.

Significance of SCO:
-        “It is the only international organisation outside the sphere of influence of the United States and its allies”. 1
-       the group has the power to influence events in central Asia and in South Asia.1
-       SCO has three primary concerns, crucial in the future:
o   security and terrorism
o   economic stability
o   energy and resources.

India and SCO:
-       India’s interest in Central Asia
o   Economic- because the Central Asia is an energy hub
o   Political
o   Security- because of the current situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.” 5
-       Initially India was wary of SCO because it was perceived to be dominated by China. However this hesitance was removed when SCO offered unprecedented rights and privileges to the Observers, where they were treated equal to Members.
-       India has applied for member status, which is likely to get approved soon. With the addition of India, the SCO would include close to half the entire human population and more than 70% of the land mass in Eurasia. 5
-       India already has historical, cultural and trade ties with the SCO member countries, hence, prospects for future cooperation are very bright. India could bring its “technical expertise, markets and financial commitment” to the SCO. 3
-       Security  Concerns: SCO will provide India a comprehensive platform to address security concerns of the region. The SCO member-states are greatly interested in the stability of Afghanistan and India can find support for its Afghan perspective.
-       Fight against terrorism.
o   SCO has set up a Regional Anti-Terrorism Centre- India will seek to increase intelligence-sharing and start participation in anti-terrorism exercises, after it attains full membership.6
o   Like India, most of the SCO member states suffer from Islamic militancy. By opening the doors of membership to Pakistan, the SCO (and India) can place greater expectation and pressures on Pakistan to dismantle the terror infrastructure on its territory. 6 Further they can assist Pakistan in this task through the Central Asia Regional Cooperation Programme (CAREC-See Note below for more details).6
-       Tackling drug-trafficking: The 2011 summit focus was on developing an anti-drug strategy. A 2008 report of the International Narcotics Control Board noted that India is increasingly becoming a transit country for narcotics.8
-       The energy-rich SCO states are of strategic importance to India with its growing economy and consequent energy demands. 2 A Central Asia Regional Energy Market (CASAREM) is being proposed, under which hydel energy surplus States such as Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are planning to get together to provide an energy market to their neighbours.6
-       A strong India-SCO relationship would bring major trade and investment opportunities for India. The SCO is gradually realising its ambitious economic integration agenda, including the formation of a free-trade zone and setting-up rules for the free movement of goods, services and technologies within SCO member states. 2
-       It will also bring India much closer to Russia and China, two of the four current members on the United Nations Security Council. Thus India’s bid for UNSC membership may get a boost if it is able to get the backing of all the SCO member countries, including China, which in the past has refused to unequivocally back India’s bid for an UNSC seat.3,5
-       Strong partnerships with SCO countries might offer India a little more credence while dealing with other international bodies like the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and even the Organization for Islamic Conference (OIC).5
Prime Minister Singh’s attendance at the 2009 summit was a signal to the SCO, that India values the SCO. However in the 2011 summit, India was represented by Foreign Minister when the others were all heads of states. This has been put down to India trying to balance its strengthening relations with USA. However it’s important for India to take a long-term view of the strategic significance of associating with the SCO. SCO is growing in importance and India must strengthen its position therein.1,3

SCO in Afghanistan:
-       Afghanistan has special importance to SCO as most members have borders with the country. Religious extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking are serious problems for the SCO states.
-       The withdrawal of ISAF, will give a greater role to SCO to participate in the stabilization of Afghanistan.  The SCO could provide the regional framework that everyone now wants for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. The addition of India and Pakistan as members would make the SCO forum a more fruitful place to discuss the post-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan.6
-       Consequently the involvement of member-states in Afghanistan is increasing. Russia is keen to “rebuild its influence by investing in infrastructure projects, sales of helicopters, and increasing cooperation in combating narcotics smuggling (that has flooded the Central Asian republics). China is developing Aynak copper mine which is the one of largest investment in Afghanistan. Kazhakistan has built the Terrmez-Kabul rail road which will boost trade in the region.
-       SCO members believe that the security of their own states will be influenced by the situation in Afghanistan greatly.  They are wary of the Taliban staging a comeback in Afghanistan because it will strengthen Islamist extremist movements in their own countries. 3
-       Afghanistan presently has the status of ‘Special SCO Invitee’. It is very keen to be upgraded to Observer status and Karzai made the request at the Astana SCO Summit, 2011. For Kabul, the SCO offers an important venue for further regional economic integration that can be achieved even in the absence of political reform. 

The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program is a partnership of eight countries and six multilateral institutions working to promote development through cooperation, leading to accelerated economic growth and poverty reduction. By promoting and facilitating regional cooperation in the priority areas of transport, trade facilitation, trade policy, and energy, CAREC helps Central Asian and neighboring countries realize their immense potential in an increasingly integrated Eurasia.
The eight CAREC countries are Afghanistan*, Azerbaijan*, the People's Republic of China*, Kazakhstan*, the Kyrgyz Republic*,Mongolia*, Tajikistan*, and Uzbekistan*.
The Program's six multilateral partners are the Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)*, International Monetary Fund (IMF)*, Islamic Development Bank (IsDB)*, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)*, and the World Bank*.



  1. Turkestan Islamic Party (targeting Xingiang, China) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (active in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan) are some of the active terrorist groups, who are believed to be based in North Waziristan (Pakistan). Violent attacks by these groups may result in heightening communal tensions in these countries. eg. Large scale riots occurred in Xinjiang in 2009. Thus terrorism also poses a great threat to internal peace in affected countries.
    [Praveen Swami, "Beijing's increasing Jihadist challenge", 4 Aug'11, The Hindu]

  2. SCO was preceded by 'the Shanghai 5'. This was an effort by China to ease tensions with its neighbours- so it comprised China and the ex-soviet countries with whom it shared a land border.This later became SCO and Uzbekistan also joined it. This explains the initial wariness in India about SCO being a China-focused organisation.
    Also oflate China has begun focusing on what has been termed 'smile diplomacy'- i.e. a realisation that without peace along its borders, it cannot have internal peace.
    India too has realised the wisdom of this. It cannot be a global power while having bad relations with its immediate neighbours.