[Answered] Critically evaluate India’s engagement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) since its full membership in 2017. How has this engagement influenced India’s strategic autonomy and its position in regional security and economic matters?

Introduction: What is SCO grouping?

Body: How has SCO engagement influenced India’s position on security and economic issues?

Conclusion: Way forward

SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization. Having begun as the Shanghai Five in 1996 by the leaders of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, it was rechristened as the SCO in 2001. The SCO entered into force on 19 September 2003. The SCO has 8 members as of September 2022. These are India, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. India and Pakistan joined in 2017.

How has this engagement with SCO helped India?

  • Access to energy-rich areas: India’s engagement with SCO has given India access to resource-rich Central Asian countries and Russia. SCO framework could help in advancing projects like TAPI pipelines which are important to India’s natural gas needs.
  • Connect Central Asia policy: SCO membership will further deepen economic ties between India and Central Asia in areas like IT, telecommunications, banking, finance, and pharmaceutical industries.
  • Contain China’s influence: India’s membership in SCO can help check the influence of China in Eurasia and India’s extended neighborhood in Asia. India also aims to propose an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative by mobilizing support for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
  • Counter-terrorism: Membership in SCO has helped India in gathering intelligence from RATS which has helped in curbing activities of terror outfits, drug trafficking, and cyber crimes in the region.

How has this engagement influenced India’s strategic autonomy in security and economic issues?

  • The dominance of Russia & China: SCO functioning is dominated by Russia and China as is seen during the Ukraine-Russia war. India is forced to play a minor role in the grouping and focus only on its South Asian region.
  • China-Pak Economic Corridor: Despite raising objections regarding the CPEC corridor which passes through PoK, India didn’t receive support from other nations of the SCO & BRI project continues violating India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
  • Counterterrorism strategy: India’s definition of terrorism differs from that of other SCO members which define terrorism as regime destabilization while for India it is state-sponsored or non-state actors-sponsored violence against a sovereign nation. Outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Afghan Taliban, and Haqqani Network do not come under the ambit of the SCO anti-terror structure.
  • Economic Development Strategy 2030: Government didn’t endorse the strategy as it felt that the policy was heavily inclined to benefit China in terms of trade and investment. The government was also unable to receive support from major nations regarding making English a formal language of SCO.

Conclusion:

SCO is necessary for India to facilitate its relations with Central Asian countries to boost economic and connectivity ties with them. SCO also provides a rare platform to engage with Pakistan and prevent border conflicts. Geopolitics often comes with a price and India has to maintain its presence in the grouping even if it is incompatible with its global ambitions.

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