<b>Diplomatic Enclave:</b> Boost in regional ties
With inclusion of India and Pakistan, SCO would cover three-fifths of Eurasia
India and Pakistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as full members at its Astana summit in Kazakhstan gives a boost to the regional organisation. With its first expansion, the regional body links together the Central Asian region and South Asia.
There had been much scepticism among some SCO countries at having India and Pakistan as members based on the apprehension that they would bring their bilateral troubles into the organisation. It had led to a much delayed admission process as the SCO members took their time in agreeing to an expansion of the regional body. India became an observer in the SCO in 2005 but applied for admission as full member only in 2014 when the SCO opened for new membership.
The earlier wariness over the two new admissions has subsided and there is now a view that the inclusion of the two new members expands the SCO to cover about half the world’s population and 25 per cent of the global GDP.
As India and Pakistan began completing the procedures for admission, reports began appearing in the Chinese media pointing out that with the inclusion of India and Pakistan, the SCO would cover three-fifths of the Eurasian continent with nearly half the world’s population. It would make the SCO the biggest regional organisation in terms of area and population and further increase its potential for cooperation.
The six-nation regional grouping, which has a focus on political, economic and military cooperation, includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and now India and Pakistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia have observer status in the SCO, and Nepal, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Turkey are dialogue partners. Iran has also applied for admission.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation grew out of the Shanghai Five – a grouping of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that was set up in 1996 with the aim of demarcation, demilitarisation and stabilising borders with China after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was formed with the inclusion of Tajikistan, (it was not a member earlier as it did not share a border with China) with an expanded agenda for political, economic and military cooperation. The SCO was a cooperative multilateral forum for Russia to counter NATO while for China it was an opportunity to intensify its outreach to the independent republics. China is now the dominant economic power in the region, which has become the cornerstone of its Belt and Road Initiative.
India’s admission to the SCO was backed by Russia while China put forward Pakistan for membership.

Central Asia has had age-old ties with India and New Delhi has sought to build its connections with the Republics after they became independent states. But it has been hampered by the absence of land access to the region. As an SCO member, India would be in a position to enhance its presence in the region and build on its trade, connectivity and energy links with Central Asia.
Combating terrorism, extremism and separatism is one of the important objectives for the SCO. As members of the SCO, India and Pakistan would become a part of the joint SCO efforts against terrorism, and would be expected to participate in the biennial joint security exercises for counter-terrorism and anti-drug trafficking that are hosted by SCO members on a rotating basis.
The SCO has set up the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) centre in Tashkent. The centre provides for exchange of information and maintains a database on terrorist groups and individual terrorists. Both India and Pakistan will need to find ways to work together on counter-terrorism aside from being part of the information-sharing process and identification of terrorists. As a Chinese official said: “Both India and Pakistan will have to adhere to the principle and basic framework under the SCO to strengthen security and anti-terrorism cooperation.”
­­­Connectivity is one of the major thrust areas and China is basking in the glow of a successful Belt and Road meeting. The main focus of its Silk Road initiative lies in Central Asia – where Chinese President Xi Jinping had first unveiled the Belt and Road proposal - and in Pakistan’s Economic Corridor. India is not part of the Chinese plans but is involved in other connectivity projects such as International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), and the Chabahar project.

Both are long-delayed projects, which need to be given a push towards completion. INSTC runs through Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to Russia but could be connected to Chabahar port as well.
With Saarc in the doldrums, SCO brings India and Pakistan together on a single platform, they may be some awkwardness though SCO rules bars contentious bilateral issues from its agenda. India will have to deal with them while it deepens its engagement with this resource-rich region in its extended neighbourhood.
Shubha Singh