As the 10th summit of the China and Russia-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) began in Kazakh capital Astana Wednesday, India is looking for full membership in the Central Asian grouping as it sees a larger role for itself in the strategically important Eurasian region.
The bloc, formed in 2001 with the goal of fighting terrorism, ensuring peace and security and create regional prosperity, is on the cusp of expansion and is expected to take steps towards that at the meeting in Astana.
An Indian external affairs ministry official said here that the country has “a larger role to play” and that New Delhi has expressed its desire for a bigger stake in Eurasian region" through the SCO which also has Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its members.
The SCO’s 2002 charter defines as its main purpose "to strengthen mutual trust, good-neighbourliness and friendship among member states, maintain regional peace, security and stability and develop effective co-operation in political affairs, economy, trade, science and technology."
With high security concerns and the fragile security situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, India's aim at larger stake in the six-nation grouping is the right thing to do, say experts.
Commodore (retd.) C. Uday Bhaskar, a known expert on geopolitical strategy, said “for India it is prudent to be in (SCO) than be excluded”.
Bhaskar explained why India should “make strong efforts” and get permanent status in the grouping in which Pakistan is also aiming at full membership. Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is attending the SCO meeting as an observer while India is represented by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.
“India has two areas of interest in Central Asia - economic and security. Economy, because the Central Asia is an energy hub. Security, because of the currently situation in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.”
As far as India's stakes in Afghanistan are concerned, Bhaskar told IANS, “Once your are in (the SCO), you will be in a better position. In a way you are equipping yourself to the best and safeguard your interests of peace and development in the region”.
Former foreign secretary Salman Haider sees it as a “positive development” if India gets full SCO membership. But he doesn't agree that it is only because of Afghanistan.
“Let's not confuse Afghanistan and SCO. The SCO is only 10 year old organisation,” Haider told IANS, adding India was looking for a peace and security in the entire region.
“See, the SCO started as security organisation to deal with non-state actors disrupting governments. Over the time, it has proved itself to be a useful organisation. It did not try to impose political positions but focused on addressing main concerns.”
“For India to be part of this organisation that boosts stability and order is good,” he said.