An alliance full of serious potential
The next summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is scheduled at Tashkent in the middle of 2016 with India and Pakistan joining as full members of this emerging powerful regional grouping. India is now advantageously placed to pursue its programmes at both political and economic levels at the SCO forum. The SCO forum has six members- China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, apart from the two new members in India and Pakistan. The last summit at Ufa in Russian Federation in July this year set the stage for the entry of India and Pakistan to the SCO. This was after a long wait as the 2016 summit opens up immense opportunities for India to expand its economic and trade relations with the four central Asian countries apart from Russia and China.
Significantly, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who backed the entrance of new members. In his concluding up remarks, Putin said that the upcoming accession of India and Pakistan into the SCO would help the organisation face current challenges and threats to the security of the region. For the first time in its history since its birth in 2001, the SCO has opened its doors to new members. The anxiety of the Russian and Chinese leaders to broaden the SCO forum and make it more representative is clear from the fact that status of other member nations were upgraded. For instance, Belarus’ status has been raised to an Observer from earlier dialogue partner and four more countries- Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Armenia, and Nepal have been given the status of dialogue partners.
That way the expansion of the SCO forum has taken note of the latest developments in the region. There are efforts to accommodate those countries in the region that can play <g data-gr-id="64">an useful</g> role in the transformation of the Eurasian continent. The Eurasian continent can transform into a region of peace and stability while ensuring economic progress and cooperation. Iran has also evinced interest in membership. Russia has also shown interest in Iran. But indications suggest that at the 2016 summit, this may not be possible and Iran will have to wait for some more time. However, Iran has emerged as a very important player in the region and both Russia and China are interested in involving Iran in the activities of the SCO. That way, the initiative can be taken at the Tashkent summit for taking Iran as a dialogue partner.
The SCO has strict membership rules for new members. The SCO at its 2010 summit approved rules on accepting new members. According to the rules, news members to the SCO must be Eurasian nations, have diplomatic relations with all current member states and have either Observer or Dialogue Partner status. However, the rules stipulate that the would-be member countries must not be subject to UN sanctions. That way, it will take some more time for Iran to be considered for SCO membership as per rules though the major members are interested in Iran.
Both China and Russia are at pains to explain that SCO is not a parallel block of non-west countries, having military ambitions. Russian President Putin is in favour of giving the SCO a pan-Asian dimension including Iran. It must be noted that once Iran is included, the grouping will receive additional muscle in terms of both economic and military power. Interestingly, the upcoming entry of India and Pakistan in SCO is also set to change the balance of power in the SCO, an organisation dominated by China to a large extent. The present economic crisis in China may compel Beijing to operate at a low key and this may help India in focusing on the issues that are of urgent importance to the economy and security of the country.
For India, SCO membership offers the country a big opportunity to have a bigger say on issues like combating terrorism and participation in major oil and gas projects in Central Asia. India’s relations with the Central Asian countries have been further strengthened by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in July this year. The full membership of SCO will enable India to deepen the economic relations with these four countries of Central Asia that are full members of SCO.
Both China and Russia have invested heavily in the resources-rich region of central Asia. India is also talking to some Central Asian countries for investment in oil and gas fields. The SCO Business Council, Interbank Consortium, and the Energy Club are steering the course of collaboration and cooperation among the member states of SCO. India will get full facilities after 2016 and that will help India in getting favourable terms from the resources rich Central Asian states. Though the global oil prices are low at present, India is saving a lot of foreign exchanges these days due to cheap imports, this situation may not last long and India has to work for its energy security which means arranging secured oil production from the oil fields where it will have stake.
Russian President Putin is working for a massive expansion in connectivity in the region and he has specially mentioned linking Baikal-Amur Mainline Tran-Siberian railroad with Western China – Europe Transport Corridor. Simultaneously, Chinese President has underlined the need for Old Silk Road project that has got big interest for India. Following the setting up of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB)of BRICS. It is a pertinent point that the funds will be available for big projects in the region and the Indian companies can take advantage of that by bidding for major projects in the region. SCO membership may step up business opportunities as SCO and BRICS will act in unison and India can help many developing countries in setting up projects with aid from AIIB and NDB. In that way, SCO membership is a major opportunity for India. The global situation also favours India much more compared to the other Asian countries, and this opportunity should not be allowed to get wasted.
(The views expressed are personal)