SCO A Cobweb Of Disputes – OpEd


Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Declaration was signed on June 15, 2001 with China, Russia and four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan as the founding members and since has been expanding with one of the world land mass end being China- Russia to now include Central Asian Republics and Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, who are the additional dialogue partners. India and Pakistan were granted the SCO membership in 2017 and Iran included this year during the summit. The SCO now has several observers, guest members and dialogue partners. The dialogue partners include Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The observers are Belarus, Afghanistan and Mongolia. There are other Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, who are the additional dialogue partners.

SCO Members Differences but yet they Meet 

Over the years I have been skeptical about the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) initiative especially when the interests of India, China and the two immediate neighbours clash on almost all issues! And similarly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) along the Old Silk Route nations have major differences starting between China-India,India-Pakistan,Pakistan-Afghanistan,Afghanistan-Iran, Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan, Armenia-Azerbaijan and many more. There is no traditional logic behind the coming together of these SCO countries which are dispersed geographically, ideologically and their economies are in different stages of development. There seems to be no common ground but the Ukraine war and anti US-West atmosphere appears to have changed the scenario to bind   these countries closer in the city of Samarkand on 15th and 16th of September. In spite of a Cobweb of differences the SCO members met in a near healthy environment with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Every member, except India, participates in China’s BRI.

China-led and China-dominated SCO, which now looks to be an enlarged Islamic countries composition of CARs and Middle East is now apparently to oppose the Western US  hegemony along with the support of Russia. The Islamic world is forgetting the continued China’s atrocities against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang (earlier called East Turkistan).Rightly country interests come first!

The 22nd meeting of the Heads of State of the SCO  was held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan which was importantly attended by Presidents of Russia Vladimir Putin, China Xi Jinping, Iran Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.West at time terms it as ‘Eastern NATO’ however the SCO is no security alliance! The SCO summit gained enhanced Western media attention in the context of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s offensive stance on Taiwan.

The city of Samarkand has been at the crossroads of world cultures for over centuries, and is one of the most important sites on the Silk Routes traversing Central Asia linking China to the Mediterranean. Located in the Zerafshan River valley, in north-eastern Uzbekistan, the city enjoys the benefits of abundant natural resources and settlement in the region can be traced back to 1,500 BC. Samarkand has had strong fortifications, before it was conquered by Alexander in 329 BC.

Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)

Central Asian Republics remain wary of the spread of radicalization. In 2002, the SCO members had agreed to create a Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO in Tashkent, which is supposed to be a ‘Coordinating Centre for Combating Terrorism’, separatism and extremism at the regional and global levels. However, a number of high profile terrorists are present in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and Pakistan. China’s has a history of repeatedly blocking Indian interests of designating Pakistan-based terrorists as global terrorists. Nothing much seems to have taken place on RATS as each member fights its own individual battles!

Who Said What in the 22nd Meeting in Samarkand 

Russia: On the Ukraine war Russia President Putin said to Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines “I know about your position on the conflict in Ukraine, and I know about your concerns. We want all of this to end as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the opposing side, the leadership of Ukraine, announced its abandonment of the negotiation process, and declared that it wants to achieve its goals by military means, as they say, ‘On the battlefield’.” Maintained that it would only get worse if Ukraine does not back down. Russia urged closer ties with China on the basis of the realisation of common goals and objectives as SCO member states. Russia also acknowledged the rotating presidency of India for next year’s summit of 2023 and pushed free visa travel between India and Russia. It promised pipeline gas supplies to Pakistan, as well. 

China: President Xi Jinping attending the first meeting after the outbreak of COVID-19 urged the SCO members to strengthen practical cooperation among themselves, China said that it is ready to work with other stakeholders to elevate global development through the BRI. Pledging humanitarian assistance and cooperation in areas of trade and investment, infrastructure and supply chains, China consistently called out and urged the group to stay far from the West. 

India: Prime Minister Modi urged the members to set a balanced approach against climate change as well. Modi said to Putin that “It is not an era of war” and pushed Russia to delve into food, fuel and security issues. Modi also underlined the transit trade and connectivity between the SCO member states, saying that transit rights between the states would boost communication and dialogue between the members. India also held sideline talks with Iran to boost bilateral ties and connectivity, speaking about the Chabahar Port development and foreseeing potential maritime cooperation. They also discussed the state of Afghanistan and prevented speculation of any bias. 

Pakistan: Pakistan pledged to remove regional terrorism from its land and focused on fighting climate change by asking for humanitarian aid and help from its member countries.

Why  SCO ?

Joining the SCO serves member states and of other nations to increase cooperation with the Central Asian countries and Russia. Connectivity with other countries in the region to enhance trade benefits is another major reason to be part of the largest economy, China and India, the fifth-biggest economy which will be mutually beneficial to all member nations. There is also a reciprocal interest for the onward land links which will provide CARs an outlet to the sea. 

Compared with the US-led “multilateral mechanism” hegemony, the SCO formed by non-Western key powers like China, Russia appears to be much more collaborative and is really promoting the multipolarization of the world that benefits the majority of the international community, which is why countries like Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Belarus are seeking membership and connectivity with the SCO.

At the Samarkand summit, SCO members granted Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar the status of SCO dialogue partners, and reached an agreement on admitting Bahrain, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Myanmar as new dialogue partners. It is noticeable that an increasing number of Middle Eastern countries have sought closer ties with the SCO post Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia. It also shows that the appeal of the SCO is rising. 

India is a peculiar member of the SCO which has military and economic ties with Western groupings of the US, EU countries, Israel, Japan and Australia while the other countries of the SCO maintain their old historic relations with Russia and the Central Asian countries. Turkey, the dialogue partner, is also a part of NATO strangely! Russia and China want SCO to be anti-West that India will not like. India is sticking to an independent and autonomous diplomacy. India will continue to work with reciprocal mutual interests with other SCO members and is able to adjust well in all groupings and is all set to lead the SCO in 2023 and show the world that in spite of having differences there are vast common ground to work on and to progress. 

Amazingly, notwithstanding the inherent differences in political systems and some members as almost sworn enemies the SCO continues to meet and talk. The participation of various members and other countries of the SCO seem encouraged, indicating that the members are keen to explore their own future economic interests in the SCO grouping

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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