Ideas for PM Modi’s upcoming SCO Summit in Kyrgyzstan
Dr Pravesh Kumar Gupta, Research Assistant, VIF

The 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit is scheduled to be held on 13-14 June 2019 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It is the second summit after India was granted full membership of this organization in June 2017, along with Pakistan. As reported, Prime Minister Modi will be participating in this summit and will have bilateral discussions with the member states except Pakistan.1 India’s engagement with the SCO as an observer had continued for more than a decade, therefore, after attaining full membership, it is imperative to achieve some concrete goals through SCO. India’s role in SCO is considered to be strategically significant, and its growing economic and diplomatic capacities have potential to increase its meaningful presence in the SCO.

India’s aspiration of attaining full membership of SCO was envisioned to nourish its connectivity with Central Asian region and to address the issue of terrorism. Russia has always been keen to have India as a part of this organization while China has been apprehensive regarding India’s full membership and was determined to balance it by having Pakistan as a full member of SCO. India’s participation in the Qingdao, China, Summit of SCO was the first as a full member in June 2018. In the Summit, Prime Minister Modi, in his speech, floated the concept of ‘SECURE’ which symbolized ‘S’ for security for citizens, ‘E’ for economic development, ‘C’ for connectivity in the region, ‘U’ for unity, ‘R’ for respect of sovereignty, and ‘E’ for environment protection.2 The speech by PM is a guiding light to understand what India expects from SCO.

In line with the PM’s speech, in the upcoming SCO Summit, India can work upon the ideas as discussed hereafter.

Terrorism and Extremism

The SCO charter of 2002 clearly states the main goals of SCO is to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism in all their manifestations, and to fight against illicit narcotics and arms trafficking and other types of transnational criminal activity including illegal migration3. Therefore, Russia, China, Central Asian Republics (CARs) and India having been facing such issues, share the common interest in dealing with these wide ranging issues which tend to overlap with each other. That will augment India’s strategic importance in the grouping. India should take lead in strengthening the counter-terrorism mechanism of SCO. It should also strongly promulgate that member countries will not allow their respective territories to be used for such activities.

India and two frontline Central Asian States, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, have convergence of interest on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. NATO forces’ withdrawal and resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan has unwarranted security concerns. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants have been provided shelter in the Af-Pak region which is a serious threat for both India and Central Asia. India can strongly urge other stakeholders such as Russia and China to take collective measures to tackle security situation in Afghanistan. SCO’s counter-terrorism mechanism needs to be strengthen to take care of these issues seriously.

Connectivity

India needs to bolster its presence in SCO to find ways to expedite initiatives like International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Russia, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Armenia and Turkey are the members of INSTC and they are also part of SCO as observer or dialogue partners. Therefore, India should use SCO as a platform with these countries in order to accelerate its capacities of trade and transportation in Eurasian region.

Another important aspect of establishing direct connectivity with Central Asia is through air transit corridor. India-Afghanistan Direct Air Freight Corridor has become operational in June 2017. During her participation in India-Central Asia dialogue in Uzbekistan in January 2019, Former Minister of External Affairs Smt. Sushma Swaraj had indicated extending this route to Central Asia as well. India should discuss this matter at the upcoming Summit with the CARs and Russian Federation and look forward to their views on the proposal. India can also discuss the use of Afghanistan’s Lapis Lazuli Corridor for its Eurasian connectivity. Improved connectivity should be India’s agenda for the Summit.

Promotion of Shared Cultural Heritage

India is culturally most diverse nation of the SCO having cultural and historical linkages with most of the member countries. Therefore, India needs to take step forward to form a cultural forum of SCO which will enable it to advertise its capacities in this field. Also, India will get another platform to promote its ancient heritage in order to enhance people-to-people contact. Interfaith dialogues between the member countries also have the potential to build more trust and understanding. India having the capability to emerge as a leader in this regard, and should float it as one of the main agenda in the upcoming SCO summit.

Technical and Educational Cooperation

Former Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Dr. Satya Pal Singh participated in the 7th Meeting of Education Ministers of SCO Member States held in Astana, Kazakhstan on 17 October 2018. He expressed that India supports the efforts towards establishing and functioning of University of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (USCO) and modernization of the national education systems of the SCO member states for 2019-2020 which was enshrined in the Protocol signed at the conclusion of the Meeting.4 India can devise its educational and academic infrastructure in this regard by offering a center of education of USCO. Also, it needs to bring consensus among member states on building cooperation on technical and skill development. Indian Government policies on skill development can be systematically utilized by the Central Asian countries. Therefore, educational cooperation needs to be highlighted by India as an agenda in the upcoming summit.

Conclusion

India’s admission to SCO as a full member has geopolitical and strategic importance. India’s investment in Afghanistan and its willingness to reach out to its extended neighbourhood of the CARs will be coinciding with its renewed partnership with Russia and China through the prism of SCO. India will also scrutinize Pakistan’s intentions vis-a-vis all the member states, especially with Russia and China, as it is crucial to the fructification of its geo-political objectives with the organization. Having been associated with SCO for a long time, it is India’s turn to use the experience of SCO not just for geo-political but economic and cultural development as well.

References:
  1. No decision on meeting between PM Modi, Imran Khan on sidelines of SCO summit https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/no-decision-on-meeting-between-pm-modi-imran-khan-on-sidelines-of-sco-summit/articleshow/69547120.cms
  2. SCO summit highlights: PM Modi says connectivity with neighbouring nations top priority, 10 June 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/sco-summit-live-pm-modi-meets-xi-jinping-at-welcome-ceremony-in-china-s-qingdao/story-Xb9qGSR9ol0kXvHJxeGmzL.html
  3. Charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, 2002, http://eng.sectsco.org/load/203013/
  4. Education continued to be a strategic priority in India’s national development initiatives – Dr Satya Pal Sing PIB release, 17 October 2018, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=184242

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