S
ince its inception, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has been as a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization. Initially, it has five members -China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, known the ‘Shanghai Pact.’ Having strategic interests in the Eurasian region; it becomes imperative for India to institutionalize its engagements with the Eurasian region.

Russia has been encouraging and endorsing India’s full-time membership of the SCO, realizing it is an important potential strategic partner. Realist thinker like Hans Morgenthau had already been put the nations on alert that there is no permanent friends/foes in the arena of international relations. For the given strong strategic partnership between India and Russia, the recent picture of bilateral ties has not been moving in the same direction. In this backdrop, the analysis will be made to know the dynamics, why Russia has been giving the strategic signal for India to be at choppy sea in the SCO?

Genesis of SCO

Out of the ongoing regionalization trends since the 1970s, the SCO, a Eurasian geopolitical organization, originally established as ‘Shanghai Five’ on 26 April 1996, out of the ‘Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions in Shanghai.' After the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, it was rechristened as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Initially, it was aimed at ensuring the liberal democracy to grow in the Central Asian countries. However, it has been argued by a political scientist Thomas Ambrosio, that the SCO has been failed to enthuse the member countries to do the same. During their meeting in Saint Petersburg (Russia), the members signed the SCO Charter in June 2002, in which they determined its purposes, principles, and structures. The SCO has covered wide-ranging of areas of cooperation such as security, trade, investment, connectivity, energy, and culture. Despite its slothful performance, the strategic salience of the SCO cannot be undervalued for the given of membership of two nuclear powers and possessing of the 60% of the land mass of Eurasia and quarter population of the world.

Geopolitical Expansion of the SCO

It has been accepted that the Indo-Pacific geopolitics in the 21st century, going to be determined by the two Asian giants –China and India. Having its geopolitical and geostrategic interests in the Eurasian region, India has been seeking to get into the SCO, which has been lingering on due to the obduracy of China. In the backdrop of regional geopolitical dynamics, India has been encouraged by Russia to join SCO as a full-time member because the latter has considered that the former could be a vital strategic partner to counter China in the Eurasian region. India applied for the membership in September 2014. The SCO approved it in July 2015. To join as a full member, India has signed a memorandum of obligations on 24 June 2016 at Tashkent. Now, it is expected that India will be a full member of the organization by 2017. However, to counter India in the SCO, China has pressed Russia for the entry of Pakistan in the same. Along with India, Pakistan is also joining the SCO in 2017.

SAARCIZATION of the SCO?

Now, India and Pakistan are going to be the member of the SCO in 2017. What will be the geopolitical meaning of this for the SCO? To decode the meaning of hostile relation of India and Pakistan for SCO, it is worth to mention here the performance of the SAARC in this context.

The performance of SAARC in terms of trade and foreign direct investment has been remained at the lost ebb comparable to the other regional organizations such as ASEAN and the EU etc. The SAARC Summit of 2016, has been canceled due to the ongoing tension on the Line of Control (LoC) between both the countries. No substantial cooperation have been achieved in counter terror, energy, connectivity, refugees problems etc. Despite the counter-terror strategy of SAARC in place, numerous terrorist attacks have been taking place in both the countries. Seeing the performance of SAARC during the last 30 years, it is very easily to argue that the SAARC has been failed due to the given hostile relations of India and Pakistan. When these two countries join the SCO, how it will perform, will remain interesting to see the same. It seems that the side effects of the hostility between both the countries will drastically impact the performance of the SCO. Moreover, India will have a pariah status in the SCO, given the changing geopolitical equations. Russia, China and Pakistan has been emerging a new strategic triumvirate.    

Russia’s Strategic Signal for India

India and Russia have remained active strategic partners throughout the Cold War. Russia has helped India in various sectors such as military, science and technology, industrialization, and nuclear technology. Russia has remained the largest exporter of weapons to India. With the end of the Cold War and disintegration of the USSR, the geopolitical equations have changed. Russia has come more close to Pakistan despite the given hostile background of relation during the former’s intervention in Afghanistan (1979-89) and now signed defense agreement in 2014.  

Russia is one of the dominating players in the Eurasian region. India has interests in the Eurasian region such as political, economic, and security. For the given historical background of bilateral between Russia and India, it is anticipated that the former will remain helpful in protecting the Indian’s interest. But seeing some moves of Russia, it seems that now, Russia has been drifting away from India.

The terrorism, separatism, and extremism have remained the pressing security threats for the SCO member countries and to fight against these threats, is remained the top priority of the SCO since its inception. In this context, Afghanistan case will be taken into account. Afghanistan is a dialogue partner of the SCO, moreover being strategically located, it has been sharing borders with Pakistan, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and Iran. Due to the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan, there is a possibility of shifting of terrorism to Russia and China via the Central Asia. It has created panic for these two countries. Against this background, Moscow is going to host a meeting with China and Pakistan on Afghanistan. India is an acceded member of the SCO, and moreover, it has strategic interests in Afghanistan. Therefore, India also should be a partner of this meeting. However, India has not been made a partner of the same.

The second case was also far-reaching impacts for India. Soon after Uri terrorist attack, India has urged Russia not to take part in the joint military exercise ‘Friendship’ with Pakistan. Ignoring the Indian request, Russia has participated in the same exercise. In the ‘Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process’ (3-4 December 2016), Russia has openly sided with Pakistan on the terrorism issue. Rather, it advised India not to use such fora for the bilateral problems. Russian ambassador to Pakistan, Alexey Y. Dedov does not only supported the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rather expressed Russia’s interest to join it. Since it is passing through the disputed territory, hence it means, it is weakening the claim of India regarding disputed area. India has been outfoxed/outmaneuvered in the strategic and energy projects from the Central Asian countries by Russia and China. Tanchum (2013), has argued that central Asia is critical for India’s security, trade and energy needs, but it has been outfoxed from the region, and it raises a serious question about India’s ability to be a partner of the regional arrangement. At last, it is concluded that Russia has turned from strategic partner to a strange partner of India. Therefore, Russia is not only a challenge in the Eurasian region and SCO rather it is going to hurt the Indian interests in the South Asia as well. In the changing geopolitical equations, the protection of Indian interests in the Eurasian region would depend on India’s astute diplomacy as well as balance between the major powers.  

Dr. Bawa Singh

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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