Ending years of vacillation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation took a major step forward by agreeing to include India, the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s third largest economy, into the Eurasian grouping. The SCO’s 14thsummit in the Russian city of Ufa also decided to elevate Pakistan, India’s nuclear-armed neighbor, from observer to full membership.
The membership in the SCO is set to bolster India’s efforts to expand and consolidate strategic and economic ties with the energy-rich region. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was a defining moment in his ongoing eight-day trip to Russia and Central Asian states.
Speaking at the plenary of the SCO, Mr Modi expressed thanks to SCO members and outlined the importance of the grouping to New Delhi. “I convey our deep sense of gratitude to the members of SCO for accepting India as a full member,” he said. He also spoke about the natural linkages of history and said this move would help promote peace and prosperity in the region, often referred to as the pivot of human history.
The SCO’s importance to India’s strategic calculus can’t be overstated with the region becoming the hub of assorted pan-Islamic militant outfits. In the SCO, besides the economic and energy imperatives, India will be looking to proactively bolster counter-terror cooperation and join hands to collectively combat the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. With the unfolding transition in Afghanistan marred by violence and the resurgence of the Taliban, Mr Modi underlined the importance of SCO-focused regional efforts for stabilizing Afghanistan.
“We will work with SCO to combat terrorism and extremism that is a rising threat to the entire region. A stable and peaceful Afghanistan is a future that the Afghan people richly deserve, but it will also advance peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” he said.
India’s deepening strategic engagements with China and Russia, along with the other countries in the region, would provide an impetus to the SCO’s progress. Along with strengthening infrastructure and energy ties with the region, India would now be taking a more proactive role on security issues, which is the core of SCO’s very foundation.
New Delhi will also be looking to proactively promote enhanced connectivity and infrastructure build-up in the region. “As we look forward, we would lend our support to improving transportation and communication networks in the region. We can create a vast network of physical and digital connectivity that extends from Eurasia’s northern corner to Asia’s southern shores. The International North South Transportation Corridor is a step in that direction,” he said. –
Mr Modi also congratulated Pakistan on being accepted as a full member of the SCO.
With India becoming a member of another major multilateral forum, it would be interesting to see how India and Pakistan cooperate in this forum. One is not sure whether bilateral differences will come in the way, like in the case of SAARC, as the SCO has bigger players like China and Russia invested in this grouping.
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