By Long Xingchun
India and Pakistan were finally admitted as full members to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Friday at its 2017 summit in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
A common concern from the international community is that the two historic enemies may bring their bilateral contradictions into the significant regional framework and consequently damage its operation.
Such concerns are justified. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) remains idle as a result of the perennial rift between the two neighbors.
India even pitched the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation in joint effort with South Asian countries, Thailand and Myanmar, but excluded Pakistan.
India and Pakistan are the two largest countries in South Asia. Their territories, populations and economic volumes exceed 90 percent of the regional total, but their long-standing discord has held the SAARC back.
Nonetheless, this is not the case with the SCO. In this framework dominated by China and Russia, neither India nor Pakistan can play as a big role as they do in the SAARC. They are expected to adopt a more cooperative attitude on most issues, or other members will clinch multilateral agreements excluding them, which would cause enormous harm to their international reputation and relations with other member states.
Joining the SCO will largely improve India’s international influence. As strategically important in eastern Eurasia, the SCO has growing clout in regional security and economic cooperation. It is therefore quite necessary for India, as a big Asian country seeking world power status, to feel its presence in this organization and exert more discourse power and influence in Eurasian affairs.
In addition, New Delhi’s full membership reflects the importance it attaches to Central Asia. Boasting abundant oil and natural gas resources, the region is ideal for India, which has to import 70 percent of its oil and gas. In July 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the five Central Asian nations, his maiden official journey there.
Based on his “Look East Policy,” he further put forward the “Look North Policy,” taking cooperation between India and Central Asian nations as a key part of the country’s foreign strategy. Joining the SCO offers a platform for such collaboration.
In the beginning, New Delhi held a wait-and-see attitude toward the SCO, displaying no strong desire to join it. It was only after Pakistan’s application for membership in 2006 that India began to make diplomatic efforts to get in.
To play a significant role in the SCO, India must improve its relations with Pakistan. Two countries – Pakistan and Afghanistan – stand between India and Central Asia. The post-Taliban Afghan government is friendly toward India; Pakistan remains the only obstacle in connecting India to Central and West Asia. Both the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline project pass through Pakistan. Therefore, India must see Pakistan as a bridge leading into Central Asia, instead of using Central Asia and Afghanistan to contain it.
Mending fences with Pakistan will decide whether India is able to gain oil and gas resources from Central Asia and Iran, as well as help the ambitious country expand its international influence.
India’s joining the SCO also demonstrates Beijing’s goodwill toward New Delhi. China has kept an open attitude toward India’s application to the organization for full membership. Some hold a view that India’s membership will cause competition and confrontation between the two major Asian countries. However, they are in no way enemies. Maintaining a stable Central Asia is in the interests of both.
India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group faces a similar dilemma. China doesn’t oppose India’s membership quest, but relevant rules and regulations would have to be amended to accept India as the country has yet to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. New Delhi shouldn’t attribute these setbacks to Beijing’s opposition.
The international community now regards India as a major power. The country should be more mature in its diplomacy, avoid setting barriers for people-to-people and academic exchanges citing technical and procedural problems, and protect overall cooperation from conflicts with individual countries.
(The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center of India Studies at China West Normal University. firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beijing’s goodwill shown in India joining SCO
By Long Xingchun