Context: Recently, the 20th Summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State was held. 

More on the news:

  • The Meeting was chaired by the President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. 
  • Other SCO Member States were represented by their Presidents, while India and Pakistan were represented at the level of Prime Minister. 
  • It is the first meeting in Virtual Format and the third meeting that India participated after becoming a full member in 2017

Highlights of Indian Prime Minister’s address:

  • Reformed multilateralism: India, as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, will focus on the theme of reformed multilateralism to bring about desirable changes in global governance.
    • This is imperative to meet the expectation of a world suffering from the social and financial after-effects of the pandemic. 
  • India’s firm belief in regional peace: This will promote security and prosperity and raising voice against terrorism, smuggling of illegal weapons, drugs and money-laundering. 
  • Respect territorial integrity and sovereignty: In an indirect reference to the Chinese infrastructure projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, India urged members of the SCO to respect “territorial integrity” and “sovereignty”.
  • Strong cultural and historical connect: India has strong links with the SCO region and has a firm commitment towards strengthening connectivity in the region with initiatives like International North-South Transport Corridor, Chabahar Port and Ashgabat Agreement.
    • SCO Year of Culture: India also extended full support to observing the 20th anniversary of SCO in 2021 as the "SCO Year of Culture.

About SCO:

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or the Shanghai Pact, is an economical -political military organisation founded in 2001 in Shanghai.
  • China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan were the original 5 founding members of the organisation who found the Shanghai Five Group
    • The group was then renamed to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with Uzbekistan joining the organisation in 2001.
  • There are eight member states in the SCO at present, namely, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India (both joined in 2017).
  • There are about four observer states and six dialogue partners in the SCO at present:
    • Observer States: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and
    • Dialogue Partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
  • Objectives of the SCO:
    • To strengthen mutual trust among the neighbouring member states.
    • To promote effective cooperation in various fields like economy, trade, politics, culture and research and technology.
    • To ensure peace, prosperity, security and stability in the region, and
    • To establish a democratic, fair and rational international eco-political order.
  • Organisational Structure of the SCO:
    • The supreme decision-making body in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is the Heads of State Council.
    • The second highest body of the SCO is the Heads of Government Council.
    • Whereas the SCO secretariat, Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Anti-Terrorist Structure, Tashkent are the permanent bodies of the SCO.
    • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) – Established to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism.

India and SCO: Opportunities and Challenges

  • Opportunities: Can help in achieving regional integration, promote connectivity and stability across borders.
    • Security:
      • India through RATS can improve its counterterrorism abilities.
      • India can also work on anti-drug trafficking and small arms proliferation.
    • Energy: Talks on the construction of stalled pipelines like the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline; IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline can get a much needed push through the SCO.
    • Trade: SCO provides direct access to Central Asia – overcoming the main hindrance in flourishing of trade between India and Central Asia, providing India with a market for its IT, telecommunications, banking, finance and pharmaceutical industries.
    • Geopolitical: SCO provides India an opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”, helping India to play an active role in its extended neighbourhood as well as checking the ever growing influence of China in Eurasia.
      • SCO provides a platform for India to simultaneously engage with its traditional friend Russia as well as its rivals, China and Pakistan.
  • Challenges:
    • China-Pakistan axis: Pakistan’s inclusion in SCO poses potential difficulties for India.
    • Limited ability to assert itself: As India has to play second fiddle since China and Russia are co-founders of SCO and its dominant powers.
    • Hard to maintain ties with the west: India may also have to either dilute its growing partnership with the West or engage in a delicate balancing act - as SCO has traditionally adopted an anti-Western posture.