Observers since 2005, India and Pakistan have finally become full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) after the first expansion of the China-dominated security grouping which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO. The two countries were inducted at this year’s summit held in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on June 8-9. India’s membership was strongly pushed by Russia while Pakistan’s entry into the grouping was backed by China. With this expansion of the grouping since its inception in 2001, the SCO will now represent over 40 per cent of humanity and nearly 20 per cent of the global GDP.
As an SCO member, India is expected to have a bigger say in pressing for concerted action in dealing with terrorism as well as on issues relating to security and defence in the region. India, one of the largest energy consuming countries in the world, is also likely to get greater access to major gas and oil exploration projects in Central Asia as many of the SCO countries have huge reserves of oil and natural gas. “India and Pakistan are now members of the SCO. It is a very important moment for us,” Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is the current chair of the SCO, said, making the announcement of the induction of India and Pakistan, capping a two-year-long accession process. The SCO had set the ball rolling to make India a member of the bloc during its summit in Ufa, Russia, in July, 2015, when administrative hurdles were cleared to grant membership to India and Pakistan.
The SCO was founded at a Summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran and Pakistan were admitted as observers at the 2005 Astana Summit. The Tashkent SCO Summit in June 2010 had lifted the moratorium on new membership, paving the way for the expansion of the grouping that is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). India has been maintaining that as an SCO member, it will be able to play a major role in addressing the threat of terrorism in the region. It is also keen on deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional AntiTerrorism Structure (RATS) which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence.
India has been an observer at the SCO since 2005 and has generally participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region. A few days after the summit, SCO SecretaryGeneral Rashid Alimov and Kazakhstan Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to China Shukhrat Nuryshev held a joint news conference devoted to the results of the SCO’s landmark annual event. “The summit has become a truly historic event that has opened a new page in the organisation’s history,” the SCO Secretary-General said. “The SCO Heads of State Council’s decisions to grant India and Pakistan full SCO membership are crucial.
The SCO’s principle of openness, which was laid down in its foundational document, the SCO Charter, 15 years ago, has been reaffirmed in practice,” he said. He paid special attention to security issues, stressing that they will remain a priority for the SCO. “The Convention on Countering Extremism, which was coordinated by our heads of state, has become a collective response of the SCO member states to the growing threat hanging over humankind,” he said. At the summit, the SCO strongly resolved to step up efforts to combat threat of terrorism and extremism and called for political initiatives to resolve regional conflicts and differences. The powerful security grouping adopted a declaration charting the future course of action in dealing with major challenges facing the region.
In his address, Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked the SCO leaders for ensuring India’s entry into the grouping and said it will give a new momentum to the bloc in dealing with terrorism and other pressing challenges facing the region. “Whether it is the issue of radicalisation, recruitment of terrorists, their training and financing, unless we take coordinated and strong efforts, it is impossible to find a solution,” Modi said in the presence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He said India’s entry into the SCO family will give a new momentum to the grouping in dealing with terrorism and other pressing challenges facing the region.
“Terrorism is a major threat to humanity,” Modi said, adding that there was a need for concerted efforts to defeat terrorism and radicalisation. “I have full confidence that the India-SCO cooperation will give a new direction and strength to the fight against terrorism,” he said. Terrorism is violation of human rights and basic human values. The fight against terrorism is an important part of the SCO cooperation, he said.
He said India’s SCO membership will certainly take cooperation among member states to new heights. “The drivers of which will be energy, education, agriculture, defence, minerals, capacity building, development partnership, trade and investment,” he said. Modi said the induction marked a historic turn in the SCO’s journey and India was ready for an active and positive participation in the grouping. He also said the development of the SCO will mean development of a huge section of the world’s population.
He also spoke on the need for enhancing connectivity in the region and said it was the key for boosting trade and investment. “We have extensive cooperation with SCO nations. We want to deepen the focus on connectivity,” he said. Speaking at the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said recent acts of terrorism in the region showed that the fight against it remains a long and arduous task. “We should continue to give priority to the SCO’s commitment to maintain regional security and stability,” he said.
The Chinese president said China supports the enforcement of the SCO Convention on Combating Extremism which will effectively contain the spread of extremism. “To enhance the capacity of member states in coordination and implementation in the security field, China calls the SCO to strengthen regional counter-terrorism institutional building and resolutely crackdown on illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking,” he said.
The next SCO chair will be China and it will host the next summit in 2018. In his address, Sharif welcomed India’s inclusion as full member of the SCO. “I congratulate India for joining the SCO family. Today, in its outreach, the SCO is truly transcontinental. In coming decades, it would serve as a strong link between the Asia-Pacific, East Asia, West Asia and the Atlantic region. Over the years, the SCO has emerged as a sheet anchor for regional stability. Now, it is destined to become a cornerstone of global politics and economics, with economics gaining primacy,” Sharif said. Russian President Vladimir Putin too called for concerted efforts to deal with terrorism and extremism.