SCO gamble: Unpacking reasons why India joined an essentially anti-western group

India has taken a calculated risk by joining the six-nation Eurasian security and economic grouping, the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif, was welcomed in Astana, Kazakhstan, on June 9 as the SCO formalised the entry of its two newest members.

On the surface, India’s long-held quest to join an essentially anti-western grouping, featuring several authoritarian and energy-rich Central Asian nations, is somewhat puzzling. India’s relations with Washington are growing ever closer, while China casts a long shadow over the group.

In Delhi’s calculus, India’s presence in Eurasia’s premier security grouping will both enhance its strategic presence in a region where it has largely failed to pull its weight, and also mobilise global support against terror.

On the last, membership could certainly yield benefits, says P. Stobdan, a former envoy to Kyrgyzstan who recently visited the SCO’s peculiarly named Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) headquarters in Tashkent. “RATS has people collecting information on the movement of terrorists, from Al Qaeda to other groups, and on drug trafficking. Real-time intelligence-sharing will definitely benefit us,” he says.

Yet, he cautions, India might find little help in its bigger battle of tackling Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism. “Our definition of terror and theirs is quite different,” he says. “They are more worried about internal threats, whether in Chechnya for Russia or Xinjiang for China, so they talk more about separatism. They are more concerned about protecting their regimes. How much we can go along with this view as a democracy, and whether we can convince them of our concerns, remains to be seen.”

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Beijing has long shielded Pakistan on terror, especially at the UN Security Council. But the recent abduction from Balochistan and reported killing of two young Chinese has underlined its growing concerns about instability in Pakistan. The party-run Global Times said the killing had “triggered off a new wave of anger against Islamic terrorism among the public”. Curiously, President Xi Jinping, who met with Modi in Astana, did not hold a bilateral with Sharif.

Rashid Alimov, the SCO’s Beijing-based secretary-general, says the group’s goals on terror are in sync with India’s. “The SCO convention on counter-terrorism is aimed at improving the mechanism for countering extremism in the SCO area. This includes field interactions for preventive action.”

For India, dealing with China’s considerable weight in the group will be one looming challenge. Here, Delhi isn’t alone. Russia has been particularly welcoming of India’s entry to the group to dilute Chinese dominance, especially as the grouping mulls greater emphasis on economic projects. Russian diplomats say they were the main drivers in pushing for India’s membership, which China initially opposed but finally conceded to, on the condition that Pakistan too was included.

One long-held concern for Delhi is that China will bat for Pakistani interests in the group. So far, China has sought to assure India it had no desire to bring issues like Kashmir onto the group’s agenda. Li Wei, a leading security expert at a state-security affiliated think-tank in Beijing, told the media before the summit that the SCO will not “internationalise disputes within the organisation”. If that is indeed the case, Delhi’s bet on the SCO may well pay off.

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Source:- India Today

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