India And SCO: Need For Caution – Analysis

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India, like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, is presently an observer of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which has completed 10 years. Like Pakistan and Iran, it has sought full membership of an organisation over which China is seeking to establish its hegemony. The request for full membership was reiterated by Shri S. M. Krishna, our Minister For External Affairs, during his visit to Beijing earlier this week to represent India in the SCO summit held on June 6 and 7, 2012.

While carefully orchestrating the further evolution of the organisation in a direction that would facilitate the pursuit of Chinese interests in Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics—particularly a greater role for China in the economic reconstruction and security modernisation of Afghanistan after the thinning-out of the US-led NATO presence post-2014—China has sought to maintain a certain lack of transparency regarding the security dimensions of the SCO.

Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO)

Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO)

While seeking to remove any impression that China is trying to develop the SCO into a NATO-like military alliance in the Afghanistan-Central Asian region to counter the US presence and interests in the region, the Chinese have been projecting it as a co-operative security mechanism to meet internal security threats to the member-countries from global and regional non-State actors.

Among such non-State actors targeted by them through this co-operative mechanism, they have given prominence to the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, an Uighur separatist organisation based in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and active in the Xinjiang province of China. This mechanism also targets Al Qaeda and its associates active in this region.

Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, which are among the members of the SCO, also look upto this mechanism to help them in countering indigenous extremist elements posing a threat to their internal security. Only Russia has not so far shown any interest in seeking the help of this mechanism for dealing with the internal security problems in Chechnya.

While China has been trying to use the security mechanism of the SCO for dealing with organisations which are perceived as posing a threat to China and the Central Asian Republics, it does not look upon anti-India organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkt-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), which are sponsored by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), or the Afghan Taliban or the Haqqani Network, which are the allies of Pakistan, as coming within the ambit of the SCO security mechanism.

Because of the lack of transparency carefully maintained by China without being challenged by Russia and the Central Asian member-States of the SCO, one does not know the details of this security mechanism. All one could gather is that this mechanism covers arrangements for intelligence sharing, joint anti-terrorism exercises and plans for raising a joint rapid reaction force to deal with emergencies caused by terrorist organisations.

The State-owned Xinhua news agency of China reported on June 7, 2012, that the SCO summit recommitted itself to closer security ties by adopting a 2013-15 anti-terrorism plan and establishing a swift response mechanism. It said that the mechanism would allow SCO members to request the help of other members to handle domestic emergencies.

According to the Agency, President Hu Jintao told the summit that “we should establish and improve a system of security cooperation”. Hu said the SCO aimed to become a “fortress of regional security and stability and a driving force of regional economic development”.

In an interview to Xinhua, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said that the SCO members had in the past 11 years developed a legal norm and a coordination mechanism, which make it possible for them to carry out anti-terror joint military exercises and to provide security for major political or sports events in member countries. He suggested that the SCO should set up a police unit within the SCO framework to crack down on Internet-based crimes.

This year’s joint military exercise of the member-countries coinciding with the summit, titled “Peace Mission 2012″ , was held in the “Chorukh-Dayron” area in the Khujand city of Tajikistan. About 2000 members of the security forces of the member-countries participated of whom 369 came from China. Beijing sent two units—one of army aviation and the other of the infantry. The army aviation unit took off from the Kashi Airport of Xinjiang on June 5 and arrived at the exercise area by way of Kyrgyzstan the same day. The ground troops left Atushi in Xinjiang on June 3 and arrived at the exercise area on June 5 via Kyrgyzstan by road.

Briefing the media on the exercise on May 31,Yang Yujun, spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, stated that the joint military exercises in the past had greatly enhanced the cohesion of the SCO. He added that defense and security cooperation was one of the important cooperative programs within the SCO. Through the defense and security cooperation, the mutual trust in military security among the SCO member countries had been greatly strengthened, and their ability to jointly cope with new challenges and new threats had been significantly enhanced. The scale of the military exercises had developed from the initial company-level tactical exercise to this year’s combat exercise of all services and arms which integrated strategic consultation, battle preparation and battle execution. The exercises location had been expanded from the border port, border area and coastal area to strategic depth and hinterland, he added.

While seeking full membership of the SCO, India should carefully consider to what extent it would be advisable for it to participate in an internal security co-operation mechanism of which China and Pakistan would be members. There would be very little compatibility between our internal security concerns and interests and those of China and Pakistan and it could be counter-productive for us to participate in this mechanism. Moreover, our internal security strategy is based on the principle that except in border areas, the police should be the weapon of first resort and the Army the weapon of last resort. The SCO mechanism operates on the principle that the Army should be the weapon of first resort with the police playing only a supportive role.

The internal security co-operation mechanism of the SCO is now proposed to be extended to the area of cyber security. The main threats to our cyber security will arise from China. It will not be in our interest to participate in any connectivity and inter-operability mechanism relating to cyber security with China.

These issues have to be carefully examined before we decide on the extent of our participation in the SCO internal security mechanism which is now dominated by China.

B. Raman

B. Raman was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]

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