The June summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent was marked by an important event: India and Pakistan signed a memorandum signaling their commitment to ratify all current SCO treaties, an act that opens their path to full membership in the organization. This pivotal decision to expand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization by adding two major South Asian countries was adopted in 2015 at the SCO summit in Ufa, and the next required step was taken in the capital of Uzbekistan.
Analysts believe that the SCO’s new geopolitical configuration can not only provide an additional boost to economic growth within that organization’s member countries, but also facilitate this global system’s transition from its current state of turbulence to a situation in which it is evolving more smoothly.
Once India and Pakistan join the SCO, the organization will include four nuclear powers – Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. Its member states will have a total population of approximately three and a half billion and a combined GDP estimated at close to $30 trillion. In addition, China and India are still the most rapidly developing economies in the modern world. That’s the big picture.
But diplomats like to say that the devil is in the fine print. And here too, the details are significant.
India’s path to the SCO was not a quick one. New Delhi was granted observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in 2005, at the fifth SCO summit in Astana. Since then, India has tactfully indicated its interest in taking a more active role in the SCO, while Russia and Kazakhstan have continued their unflagging efforts to convince other members of the organization of the need for India’s full participation in the SCO’s work.
In 2009, after the necessary «vertical consolidation» had been completed, the decision was made to launch the SCO’s «horizontal expansion», and in 2014 the organization was given the «green light» to add new members.
Why is it so important for India to take part in the SCO’s work? An answer to this question was offered by the experienced Indian diplomat and distinguished analyst Ashok Sajjanhar: «India’s security, geopolitical, strategic, and economic interests are closely intertwined with developments in the region. The ever present and expanding challenges of terrorism, radicalism, and instability pose a grave threat to the sovereignty and integrity not only of India, but also of countries in its broader neighborhood [i.e., Central Asia]». The SCO’s expansion to include Central Asian states blessed with rich mineral resources will make it possible to work within the framework of the organization to draft general rules governing trade in those resources that will be less susceptible to market fluctuations.
For example, one of India’s highest priorities is obtaining free access to Central Asia – an idea that is also of strategic interest to the ruling establishments in the states of that region. India’s cultural influence has had a long and positive history there. For this reason, the long-term linkage of Indian and Russian interests seems like a natural development that is made possible by the International North–South Transport Corridor (ITC) – a project in which Russia, India, and Iran are the main players. And New Delhi – feeling the heat from the decision to establish a «Pakistani transport corridor» with the active assistance of China – has already accelerated its efforts at establishing the ITC. Iran’s Chabahar Port, which Japan is expected to help modernize, is rightly considered one of the pillars of the ITC. The Land of the Rising Sun is also interested in the future of the transportation revolution, at the core of which lies the diversification of transportation routes in Eurasia. In my opinion, the expansion of this network of land and water passageways will make it possible to frame the principles behind a new geo-economic balance on the Eurasian continent.
It is quite obvious that India, Russia, and China share a common strategic interest in shoring up the stability of the existing political systems in Central Asia. Hopefully the ongoing dialog within the framework of the SCO about security issues will lead to progress in the fight against terrorism in this corner of the world, as well as serve to prevent all manner of «color revolutions».
Pakistan has its own distinct aspirations as well, and just like India, that country is also on the path to full membership in the SCO. On the one hand, as the Pakistani newspaper the Nation reports, that republic is demonstrating its desire to diversify its foreign policy with tactics that make more sense geopolitically and economically. On the other hand, an ongoing dialog within the framework of the SCO could create new, more favorable conditions in the future for normalizing the historically difficult Pakistani-Indian relationship.
It is worth emphasizing that Pakistan views the simultaneous induction of both South Asian states into the SCO as an opportunity to improve economic ties between Islamabad and New Delhi. And – given patience and restraint on India’s part – it is reasonable to expect that the bilateral economic ties between India and Pakistan might finally mature. With respect to the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad, this will help make the prevailing atmosphere less ideological and more conducive to the idea of working together to achieve specific, mutually beneficial results.
As for Moscow’s view on Indian-Pakistani relations, that has remained unchanged for decades. India knowns that Russia is interested in: (1) the preservation of the unity and territorial integrity of Pakistan (which is also one of the prerequisites for the domestic political stability of any «post-American» Afghanistan) and (2) a stronger tradition of civilian rule in that Islamic republic, an unobstructed future for social and political development there, and seeing that country take its first steps down the path of sustainable economic growth.
Pakistan’s active involvement in the work of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is not only in Russia’s long-term interests, but also India’s.