SCO had initially been mooted as a major anchor of security in volatile Central Eurasian region. Source: AFP/East-News
The developments in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek will be watched all over the world. The organization has assumed enormous significance not only due to its membership particularly that of Russia and China, but also due to its geographical spread over one of the most happening regions of the world. Its charm too has increased since its foundation in 2001 with increasing number of countries aspiring for its membership. Particularly as the situation in Afghanistan and Central Asia is likely to be volatile in coming years, the organization is also seen as a major player in providing security and stability in the greater neighbourhood.
Established as Shanghai five in 1996, and then transformed into SCO with addition of Uzbekistan in 2001, the organization had initially been mooted as a major anchor of security in volatile Central Eurasian region.
One of the major concerns behind the foundation of the SCO, as pointed out by Zhang Xinfeng, director of the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorism Agency of the SCO in his statement published by Xinhua, was to counter the menace of terrorism and religious extremsim. He particularly emphasized on three evil forces ‘terrorism, extremism and separatism’ which were countered by the organization. All the member countries and their neighbours such as India, which is at present a dialogue partner, have confronted these menaces in various degrees.
The establishment of anti-terrorism wing of the organization and regular conduct of counter-terrorism exercises such as Peace Missions are testimonies of joint resolve of members to face these problems collectively. These problems cannot be categorized as problems of a particular country particularly when porous borders in Central Asia and wide networks of radical organizations have transcended state boundaries. It is but imperative that members of the organization confront common problems in a joint framework without domination of a particular country.
An emerging trend that can be deciphered in the domain of the SCO in recent years is the widening of the net of activities into the areas of trade and commerce, development of cross-border transport linkages and people-to-people contact. The recent tour of Chinese President to Russia and some of the Central Asian countries to promote trade and energy pipelines is an evidence of this trend. By using the organization as a platform to explore trade potentials to mutual advantage is increasingly gaining currency within the SCO. It is common knowledge that the members, particularly Central Asian countries, are linked with Soviet era road and rail networks, which can be further extended to the whole region.
The exploration of the Silk Road can contribute to this common network of transportation links. The linkages from China to Arabian Sea through Karakoram highway and from Russia to the Indian Ocean through the proposed North South corridor are some of the major linkages that the members (current and prospective) can develop for mutual advantage.
Membership of the SCO is highly sought after. The Bishkek summit may prove propitious in this regard. Reports suggest that India, Pakistan and Mongolia will likely be elevated as full members from their current status as observers, while some other participants may be elevated to the status of observers. Countries like Armenia have expressed interest to join the organization as observers. In case of India, Russia would be interested to accommodate its traditional friend’s aspirations. It will depend how the Chinese leaders perceive the Indian aspiration. Any positive support from China to India’s candidature will not only help cement India-China relations, but also strengthen the organization to play a more effective role in Afghanistan after departure of the NATO forces. In case of Pakistan, the Chinese position may be different as it views Pakistan as an ally. As reported by India’s news agency UNI, India has already made a strong case for its membership and India’s Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid during his visit to Bishkek to represent the country will further push India’s case, besides meeting leaders of some of the member countries separately.
The broadening of membership will further the collective spirit of the organization, and make it one of the most powerful anchors of peace, security and stability in Central Asia and beyond. The inclusion of new members including India will transform SCO as one of the representatives of about half of the population of the world and make its voice more effective in regional and global affairs.
Dr. Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include conflict, terrorism, peace and development, South Asia, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.
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