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GIST of RSTV: Shanghai Cooperation Organization 2020

Published: 27th Jan, 2020


Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will be invited to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Heads of Government meeting to be held in India at the end of this year. Invitations will be sent to all the member countries of the SCO for the summit to take place later this year.  The SCO has eight members – India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and four observer states - Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Raveesh Kumar confirmed that the invitation will be sent out to all SCO members. It will be interesting to see if Prime Minister Khan attends the SCO summit or sends a representative on his behalf. In 2014, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif had visited India after an invite for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in was sent to all heads of SAARC countries. Since then no Pak prime minister has visited India.  India has scrapped all bilateral meetings with Pakistan and has held the neighbouring country responsible for sponsoring terror attacks in Kashmir. This edition of the big picture analyses the SCO Summit and Indo-Pak relations.

Edited excerpts from the Debate:

Question: How to look at the invitation going to Pakistan to participate in the SCO summit?

  • This is the first SCO summit to be held in India.
  • We become member of SCO in 2017.
  • We have no choice but to invite PM Imran Khan.
  • As a new entrant and as somebody who wants to play a constructive role and expand its engagement with the SCO, we don’t want to be seen as a spoiler.
  • Hence, it comes with the nature of the organisation that we have invited PM Imran Khan.
  • In all likelihood PM Imran khan will accept the invitation because he wants to be seen as different from India; that he will grand stand, and in this China will support him to the hilt.

Question: Does PM Imran khan’s likely acceptance of India’s invitation step from Pakistan’s economic pressure, where it doesn’t have many options other than exploring all that is there on the table?

  • Both India and Pakistan are new entrants to SCO in 2017. Neither of them would like to do something which shows them as odd man out, especially in a grouping where both have been striving to be a part of since a long time.
  • Even Pakistan’s army is facing huge economic pressure and they also want that somehow the tension can be brought down.
  • But the problem with Pakistan security establishment is that most of the times they are talking peace but acting in cohort with terrorists, infiltrators and anti-India elements.
  • If PM Imran Khan comes he may be leading a high level delegation.
  • While it is perfectly in alignment to the SCO’s multilateral requirements that India invites Pakistan, and Pakistan accepts the invitation, what really needs to be seen is that whether there will be a bilateral meeting on the sides.

Question: It seems unlikely that a bilateral meeting on the sides will happen, but is it a possibility that things will change in the months to come?

  • From a global perspective, SCO as an organisation has a vast geographical expanse and is a major Euro-Asian organisation.
    • Half of the world population is part of it.
    • There are four nuclear powers operating in SCO – Russia, China, Pakistan and India.
    • It’s a major multilateral forum with capacity to counterbalance NATO.
  • From a regional perspective, first Central Asia was first the major theme of SCO, but with India and Pakistan joining, it represents South Asia also.
    • Now other Asian countries- Asia Pacific- are also getting interested in it.
    • Hence, the organisation’s importance cannot be undermined.
  • So when we see inviting Pakistan in this light, we realise that it is one among the many members that will be coming.
  • So given that SCO is a multilateral forum, it will be multilateral issues that will be gaining importance rather than controversial bilateral issues.
  • It is multilateralism which will be promoted much more.
  • But by inviting Pakistan India has taken a constructive step because Eurasia is an important landmass where India has to lead.
    • It has interest in Afghanistan
    • Interest in Iran and Chabahar port.
    • Interest in connecting to Central Asian countries.
  • So there are too many factors and stakes that India has, and Pakistan is not the only issue. There is China, OBR related issue and so many other areas which India needs to address.
  • There is no need to overplay invitation of Pakistan. The organisation has a much larger scope.

Question: What does SCO as a whole mean to India, and how relevant is it as an organisation?

  • SCO is very relevant as an organisation. The mandate of SCO has been evolving.
  • It started off as being an economic, political, cultural and security organisation, but the security aspect (military cooperation, cyber security, counter terrorism etc.) have become important facets of SCO.
  • Leveraging is really important for India:
    • India is one of the very few countries of the world which is associated with almost all major organisations.
    • It gives our leaders an opportunity to engage with major leaders of the world.
    • Hence it is important to engage with SCO in a very constructive fashion.

Question: What are the issues of concern in India’s engagement with SCO, and what is it that we should be focusing on going forward?

  • Terrorism is one of the main focuses of SCO and India has been trying to highlight the issue.
  • Given that terrorism is a common threat that affects all the countries, as a host country, India has a major responsibility in terms of the final statement that comes out of the SCO summit.
  • India has not managed to be an important axis for Asian heartland because of various reasons:
    • Pakistan has blocked our axis.
    • Iran’s strained relationship with West has strained our open access.
  • Within the SCO, India has an opportunity to be the axis for Central Asia, Afghanistan and Eurasian heartland through Chinese territory.
    • India can also look to axis Xinjiang region through Karakoram pass and beyond.
    • Accessing Central Asia through this particular land route can open a lot of avenues for India.
    • Not only will India access to the huge resources of Eurasian landmass but also will gain a new market for Indian goods.
    • And given the rough phase that Indian economy is going through, if Indian industry has to grow it has to tap into new markets and new resources.
  • Hence SCO is an important group in every respect for India. And most of newly liberated countries of Central Asia connect well with India. They in fact have certain apprehensions as far as both china and Russia are concerned because of historical reasons. While India is seen as a benign power.
  • In 1992-92, under Narasimha Rao, India was one of the first countries to reach out to Central Asia but did not sustain the relationship. SCO provides India that additional channel to engage with Central Asia.

Mackinder's “Heartland Theory,” states that the power that controls Central Asia—the great pivot—would eventually emerge as the most powerful state in international politics.

Question: At SCO, does having Pakistan, China and Russia at the same high table cause concern for India; especially after Russia’s leaning towards China in the Crimea issue?

  • Certain projects which require development cooperation; large scale projects like infrastructure, telecommunications, and ICT connectivity, are neutral and they can be carried through.
  • As far as projects like Energy are concerned they cause serious problem.
    • Because Iran is still not a member of this organisation, and due to US-Iran tensions India cannot completely rely on Iran for oil.
    • Similar doubt is there for reliance on Iraq for our energy resources.
    • Hence, India may have a more serious energy crisis than what we imagine.
  • Russia and China are closely attached due to the 100 bn $ trade between the two.
  • And even while China is also one of the biggest trading partners of India, it is to be kept in mind that it is an all-weather friend of Pakistan.
    • Pakistan has collaborated with China on several occasions, particularly the BRI, initiative and the China-Pakistan economic corridor, which passes via Kashmir, and to which India has always objected to.
  • Apart from befriending Central Asian countries, India has to also soften tensions with China, without which SCO as an organisation cannot work.
    • Arunachal Pradesh issue
    • Border related issues
    • Trade related issues
    • Tibet issue
    • Pakistan issue
  • Focusing on Central Asia cannot be the whole object because apart from Mackinder's Heartland India also should focus on Spykman’s Rimland.
    • How India manages Rimland and Heartland together will determine India’s position and power in Indian Ocean and India-Pacific region.
  • Fighting terrorism is a common issue for all multilateral bodies. India can use SCO forum for developing counter-terrorism strategies, and deal with Pakistan on this issue - especially given that it is a globally recognised fact that Pakistan has been harbouring terrorism on its soil.

Spykman “Rimland-theory,” is a political theory that holds that control of Eurasia and Africa (the World Island) is achieved via control of the countries bordering the Soviet Union.

Question: How do we soften and deal with China, give its hegemonic tendencies?

  • India’s effort for a very long time has been to engage with China and manage India’s relationship with it.
  • China is a rising and hegemonic power which wants to create a China-centric global order; where the space that China wants to give to India is at variance with the space that India sees for itself.
  • China’s friendship with Pakistan, its pin-pricking India etc. at a global stage will continue in future also; China is bound to contain a big, democratic, aspirational country like India in its neighbourhood.
  • At the moment we have an asymmetric power balance.
  • It’s not in India’s interest to provoke China. We have to strengthen our relationship with other countries, improve our defences and play the long game.
  • China has twin objectives: I
    • It doesn’t want India to compete with India in the global arena and that is why not just with Pakistan, China likes to engage with each of India’s neighbours. Basically to keep India confined to South Asia.
    • At the same time, China doesn’t want India to become a US ally. That is why it doesn’t completely oppose India at the global fora and on many issues has actually been supportive of India.
  • Considering prevailing circumstances, the border issue with China cannot be completely resolved, but can only be managed.
  • China being our largest trading partner, we need to expand our trade with China. If we open new avenues to access China, we can balance our trade with it in a better way.
    • Western China was traditionally supplied from India.
    • Even till 1960s, Tibet’s food grain requirement would be met from India.
    • Xinjiang used to be supplied from India.
  • Unlike the 1060s, today we do not have an ideological conflict with China. Today’s China is communist only in name. It’s not a conflict between communist China and a democratic India.
    • It’s primarily a border dispute between the two.
  • Within Chinese hinterland there is ignorance about India. There is a mysticism and aura about India which we need to harness.
    • India’s soft power has great potential in China.
    • If we successfully access the Eurasian heartland, then our access with many other regions opens up.
  • Areas which were earlier the crossroads and now have become isolated parts of India would again come back. For example, in 18th century Leh region was the highest crossroad of the world.
  • If we build up connections with China, Mongolia, Russia and Central Asian republics we will have huge avenues for trade which will open up.

Question: Where does Russia fit into all this, given that it is also a member of SCO?

  • Growing Indo-American ties are a cause of apprehension to many countries, including China, and Russia too.
    • Russia is our old ally. We enjoy a very good defence partnership and friendship with Russia. There is goodwill in each other’s security forces, security agencies and public at large.
    • We must allay Russia’s fears that while India and US are getting close it is never going to be at the cost of Russian interests.
  • When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia began to woo European countries more. They were oriented towards NATO countries and wanted to be part of G8. Now they have taken initiative in whole of Eurasia.
    • India’s trade with Russia has started to grow recently.
    • Defence and security related arrangements are getting firmed up.
  • India and Russia (earlier Soviet Union) have a long structured relationship of 60 years where they know how to negotiate a relationship while being friends.
  • Russia will always be an important partner and will stand by India on many issues, like NSG or India’s membership with the Security Council.

Conclusion (Way forward): India is on the right track with SCO nations. The informal dialogue process with China is a good step forward. Russia is a country which has stood by us, and we are doing well to keep engaged with it. SCO is a great forum for India to showcase its potential and India should go out of its way to ensure that the coming summit is a success. Most countries, barring Pakistan have huge potential with India, including China. Our cooperation with SCO countries must increase and the perception that India has totally sided with the western-camp must be allayed. Finally, it was a good step to call Pakistan to the summit.

Practice Question: How will India’s control and access to Central Asia help it emerge as a powerful state in international politics? How can the platform of SCO be used for this purpose?

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