Opinion: India and the SCO
The invitation of Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony apart from the Bay of Bengal nations was a signal of India’s desire to increase its engagement with Eurasia. In the face of US President Donald Trump’s increasingly acrimonious position on issues such as trade, to name one instance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit—to be hosted in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on Thursday—has gained in relevance for India. With the clarification that there will not be Indo-Pak bilateral talks at the summit, the focus now shifts to Modi’s meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping. This is rather ironic given that the US was viewing India as a bulwark against China in the region.
The SCO’s significance for India lies in economics and geopolitics. Having begun as the Shanghai Five in 1996 and rechristened as the SCO in 2001, the member states occupy the huge landmass adjacent to India’s extended neighbourhood where India has both economic and security imperatives. The organization started as one focused on security with a moderate ambition of resolving border concerns and jointly combating terrorism, separatism and extremism. As an aside, interestingly, a point to note is that as much as Eurasian integration is organic, its avatar is decidedly Chinese, given that all its members support that country’s Belt and Road Initiative. The moot point for India’s strategy at the SCO, however, is not to counter China but rather enhance economic cooperation with the Eurasian states and benefit from the security framework. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the development of India’s relation with Central Asian countries was constrained by a lack of overland access because of both political and security reasons. That has been remedied to a large extent by the formation of the SCO, to which India was admitted as a full member in 2017. The summit represents a structured forum where India can leverage its interests that would help it both on the domestic and the international front.