India's ties with Russia are critical to counter China in SCO
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is dominated by the neighbouring country, which only reluctantly agreed to New Delhi's permanent membership.
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The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has gained the reputation of being a successful non-Western security and economic organisation. India and Pakistan's first participation as full members of SCO at the 16th meeting of Council of SCO Heads of Governments in Sochi, Russia last week has only added to the attention it has been getting.
Central Asian Republics (CARs), which constitute one-third of the SCO members, have been opposed to monopolisation of regional geopolitics by a single entity. However, the republics are rather enthusiastic about a proactive role for India in the region. Some of the aspects that India would work on within the framework of SCO are:
a) Enhance regional connectivity and economic integrity in Central Asia
b) Collaborate in fighting against terrorism
c) Work in close tandem with all members of SCO to carry forward its interests
d) Turn "Connect Central Asia" policy into a reality
While geographical factors have for long crippled India's efforts to play an active role in the region, Delhi's key agenda as a member state is to promote economic integration, regional connectivity, energy diplomacy, infrastructure and foreign investments, military cooperation and counter-terrorism. India's successful execution of its geo-economic interests relies on access to trade, economic corridors and natural resources for which Central Asia becomes an indispensable region. One of India's agenda in the Sochi meet focused on the gloomy global economic uncertainties and extended its hand to SCO members to be part of its economic success.
Condemning the rise of all kinds of terrorism, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj stated that India was determined to work towards strong cooperation among the member states to establish comprehensive and sustainable security in the region. India conveyed that religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group should not be used as a tool to promote terrorism. SCO's permanent organ - Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure - is expected to contribute through mutual legal assistance, extradition arrangements, technologies, intelligence and data sharing in its fight against terrorism.
SCO would act as a gateway for India to satiate its growing energy demands. Hence, pipeline diplomacy, including civil nuclear energy, will be a salient feature of India's interests in the region. India's growing bilateral relations with the Central Asian republics such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan will gain further impetus in this sphere of cooperation.
Regional connectivity will be on India's list of objectives in the region. It will be interesting to see how the completion of the Chabahar Port will enhance India's regional connectivity aspiration in Central Asia. Interestingly, Iran's future membership in SCO will change the geopolitical dynamics in the region. China's biggest concern is the alternative route and corridor that Iran would provide countries such as India to bypass the troubled regions such as Pakistan to gain access to Central Asia.
In order to shepherd its interests in the region, India needs to see beyond optics and overcome hurdles that may affect its overall growth in the region. To begin with, the SCO is a China-dominated organisation. China had reluctantly agreed to India's permanent membership only after Russia acceded to bring Pakistan on board to balance the equation. The "all-weather" friendship between Pakistan and China is a major cause of concern.
The refusal to extend the house arrest of Hafiz Saeed, Kulbhushan Jadhav being sentenced to death for espionage, and China's constant effort to block India's efforts to list Masood Azhar as a global terrorist have aggravated India's grievances. India will thus have to formulate an approach to work closely with member states including Pakistan and China to fight the common threat of terrorism.
India's camaraderie with its traditional partner, Russia, will play a key role in forwarding its interests in SCO. China may currently be enjoying a non-hostile Russia in CAR, but in the long-term Russia will not hesitate to put hostile Chinese interests in check if it overrides its interests. The fact that LeT, JeM and TTP were mentioned in the BRICS joint declaration is a pointer to Russia's success in persuading China to not shield Pakistan's role in sponsoring terrorist activities against India.
In the final analyses, India will have to gain the confidence of central Asian nations as a reliable player through effective use of diplomacy, as demonstrated with its support to Bhutan during the Doklam crisis. India should also focus on developing its "soft power" capabilities through people-to-people contact, film tourism, air connectivity, cultural exchange, and investments in infrastructural developments, including defence cooperation. In the world of geopolitics, India should use its soft power capabilities to drive home its interests.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)