Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
This meeting was important for two reasons. One, India decided to join the China led SCO and secondly, there was an informal meeting between Modi and Nawaz Sharif.
What is Shanghai Cooperation Organization?
Also known as SCO, this is a political, economic and security organization comprising Kazakhstan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was created in Shanghai in 2001, its charter was signed in 2002 and became operational in 2003. It was only last week on June 9, 2017, that the SCO admitted India and Pakistan as its new members.
Originally, the SCO comprised China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. This grouping, called the Shanghai 5 came into being in 1996. The main objective of this nucleus was to reduce military tension among them. In the same year, the Shanghai 5 signed a treaty called Deepening of Military Trust Treaty in Shanghai. Next year, the same countries signed another treaty, Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions.
Subsequently, the Shanghai Five have met in Dushanbe, Almaty, and Bishkek, and have agreed to improve regional stability, and security. They have also agreed to not to interfere in each others’ affairs in the name of human rights.
Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organization
The Shanghai 5 returned to Beijing in 2001 and admitted Uzbekistan in its fold, thus becoming Shanghai 6. This grouping noted the excellent work done so far and signed the Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO also decided to change itself into a higher level of cooperative body.
The SCO Charter was signed in June 2002 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It explained the structure, shape, processes, and scope of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO was finally a body bound by international law.
The Astana Summit
In July 2005, the Shanghai 6 met in Astana, Kazakhstan and invited representatives from Iran, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan. Speaking at this summit, Nursultan Nazarbayev noted that the countries attending it represented half of world’s humanity. This summit started the process of admitting India and Pakistan as full members of the SCO.
After fulfilling all the obligations, India and Pakistan were finally admitted as full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in June 2017.
Under the OBOR shadow
The SCO summit took place in the shadow of the OBOR meeting at Beijing. India had boycotted the OBOR meeting because it felt that this treaty did not address India’s concerns.
OBOR is basically a China-led initiative that links this country to many other Asian nations economically through roads. One such road passes through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India considers this road as infringing upon her territorial integrity and therefore, decided to skip the OBOR summit.
It was, therefore, all the more interesting to note that India did attend the SCO summit in Beijing just a month later. What made India change its stance? Before answering this question, let us understand the aims and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Aims of SCO
Unlike OBOR, SCO is oriented more towards the security and stability of the Central Asian region. This treaty aims to counter terrorist, separatist, and extremist activities in this part of the world. Everyone knows that these countries are greatly affected by violence and terrorism. For many years, Muslim rebels have targetted southern Russia and Western China. While Russia has largely been able to control Islamic terrorism, China still has some distance to go on this issue.
Some countries like Russia hope that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will also talk about economic cooperation. There is a great potential in exploring fresh reserves of oil and gas in these countries, according to Russia. SCO could also find out ways and means of cooperating in water resources related areas. In one of the SCO summits, Iran has suggested to set up a new banking system to take care of the financial needs of the member countries.
So far, Russia has been very vocal about the economic agenda of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.President Putin says that stability and economic prosperity cannot be divorced from each other. The world is becoming multipolar and there are regional pockets of economic prosperity all around the globe. SCO must try to change itself into a body that is economic in nature as wee, according to Putin.
Clearly, the central aim of SCO is to ensure the security and stability of its member states.
Why did Modi attend SCO?
Shallow political commentators have mocked Modi on attending the SCO summit at Almaty. They say that this is another example of his frequent flip-flops. Let us understand why Modi went to Almaty.
First of all, we had to go to the summit because India is now a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Every summit requires that all the Heads of States come to the venue.
Secondly, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization gives India an opportunity to use its influence and strike economic bargains with other countries. For example, India can explore and exploit new gas and oil reserves in many Central Asian nations. This will help us get fresh supplies of gas and oil. Please remember that the Middle East is seeing a lot of violence for the past few years.
While India and China are not on the same page on many issues, it makes sense to tie-up with China on security issues. Both the countries can work together to control the Muslim violence in their respective territories.
However, India is unsure how China will help it on this issue. Pakistan and China are great friends and the latter is giving silent support to Pakistan’ state sponsored terrorism.
India also plans to conduct joint military exercises with Russia and China as part of the SCO treaty. Perhaps, India sees SCO as more of an economic instrument than a security-led one. There are more economic opportunities than security ones in this treaty.
Dilution of China’s role
Many member countries in the SCO are uncomfortable with the Chinese presence in this body. They think that China will dominate the agenda of the SCO. This is not surprising because China is among the top 5 economies in the world. To counter the Chinese influence, the SCO has admitted India into its fold. The non-China countries hope to use India’s economic and military influence in making the Shanghai Cooperation Organization a more balanced entity.
Role of Pakistan
The SCO has also admitted Pakistan as a full member. India does not have any problems with this issue. The Ministry of External Affairs has said that India and Pakistan cooperate on many issues like terrorism, UN Peacekeeping etc. However, China may use Pakistan to counter India on many issues so that China’s influence remains intact.
The SCO is mainly a security and stability led organization. However, this body has economic benefits as well like the exploration of new oil fields and new trade blocs. India will gain significantly by becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and will also gain access to new markets for oil and gas supplies. It is hoped that the SCO will persuade Pakistan to stop supporting the jihadi network that operates from within that country.