The two day visit (February 23-25) of the Secretary-General of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) Dmitry Fedorovich Mezentsev to New Delhi is poised to impart a fresh momentum to India’s relations with the six-nation organisation.
It could have been just another diplomat visit, but the timing of the trip has imparted it an added resonance. With the impending drawdown of the majority of international troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year and the pitch by India to become a full-time member of the SCO and a part of the Energy Club of the organization, Mezentsev’s India’s sojourn becomes important both for the future trajectory of the grouping and its expanding role in the changing world order.
India is keen to become a member of the SCO for a host of energy, economic and strategic reasons. New Delhi feels that the membership of the organisation makes India not only an equal partner in the Energy Club but also makes a stakeholder in the security of South Asia keeping in mind the prevailing uncertainty in Afghanistan and rising tentacles of terrorism in the region.
By becoming a full member, the largest democracy of South Asia wants to play an active role in security and developmental challenges that the region faces. The SCO platform provides a bigger opportunity to the South Asian republic to play a proactive role in stabilizing Afghanistan and have greater stake in its developmental projects.
The Asia-Eurasia grouping can also play a more proactive role in containing the growing menace of terrorism in region. The greater proximity with the SCO promises India a rich haul of energy resources in central Asia, where China at present has almost a free run. The access to huge energy pile in Central Asia will help India in addressing its energy deficit.
Clearly, the SCO is a promising grouping as it aims at emerging as an alternative security paradigm in Asia. However, the historical trust deficit between the two largest countries – Russia and China – is holding back the SCO Development Bank. It is also a lack of trust that comes in the way of any cohesive military framework.
Some critics argue that if the new observers like India, Pakistan and Iran are given membership, the inherent differences between the neighbours will hold back the SCO from growing to its full potential. They argue that the SCO can become a real alternative to the NATO and west’s political narrative only when it sorts out its internal contradictions first.
Nevertheless, the SCO is a novel experiment and could be a future answer to South and central Asia’s political, economical and security problems. India, therefore, needs to engage and deepen its presence in the SCO. The visit of Mezentsev has to be looked at from this perspective.
The SCO was set up in 2001 in Shanghai with Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its founding members. In fact the germ of the grouping was laid in 1996 when “ the Shanghai Five” was established in 1996 by China along with four of its neighbours to address border security issues.
The SCO has come a long way since then with its aim and ambition and expansion earning it the sobriquet of the NATO of Asia. Today the six member states hold almost 60% of the total area of Eurasia, over 1.5 billion population, and some of the world’s leading energy-rich nations.
(The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author)
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