One major development that went little discussed during the period after the India-China military standoff in the Sikkim sector was the participation of New Delhi in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO’s) plenary meeting in Dalian in Liaoning province, Northeast China, on June 29. The development has considerable significance for the emerging world order. Representatives from the SCO member-countries (China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan) deliberated on how to strengthen their anti-terrorism and border control mechanisms for the first time after India and Pakistan became full members of this major Eurasian political, economic and security grouping on June 9 in Astana, Kazakhstan.
India could not afford to miss it as the SCO is seen as a challenge to the supremacy of the Western military alliance called NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in the post-Soviet Union disintegration era. The Indian decision was quite logical as this is how mature nations conduct themselves even in times of crisis involving their borders. Chinese President Xi Jinping too attended a summit in New Delhi when Chinese armed forces were involved in an objectionable road building activity in Chumar, one of the most active areas in Ladakh, on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in terms of interactions between Chinese and Indian troops.
If the Chinese dominance over the SCO provides Beijing considerable opportunities to realize its dream of becoming the future super power, the SCO membership for India is also likely to help it find solutions to many problems New Delhi has been faced with to strengthen its relations with South and Central Asian nations. India’s case in the SCO was pushed by Russia in its own long-term interests, but, interestingly, this suited China too which otherwise supported Pakistan to become a full member of the grouping, accounting for half of the world’s population and a quarter of the globe’s GDP. It is not for nothing that India’s lukewarm response to China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative has not evoked a strong reaction from Beijing.
Under all circumstances, it must be kept in view that the SCO has a military angle too besides its security, economic and geopolitical aspects. It got its present shape from the Shanghai-5, an organization that came into being after border demarcation and demilitarization negotiations involving China and the Central Asian republics.
First of all, however, let us go a little deeper into the advantages for India. Now India will be in a better position to bring more pressure on Pakistan to allow India the land route to reach Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics. Any positive development in this regard will ultimately contribute to the lessening of India-Pakistan tensions, impacting the economy of the entire region. Once India gets access to the land route to the countries beyond Pakistan, it will be easier for New Delhi to safeguard its interests in these nations, including Afghanistan and Iran.
The present strategy of India to use Iran’s Chabahar port to take its goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia is quite prohibitive, cost wise. Indian goods are bound to have a tough time competing with products from, for example, China and Pakistan owing to the heavy transportation costs involved.
Though China uses Pakistan to get India bogged down with issues related to Islamabad, the emerging situation in South Asia demands de-freezing of India-Pakistan relations. Maintaining the status quo with enormous costs in terms of money and manpower is not a pragmatic idea for any of the two countries on any pretext. Pakistan can play a major role in this regard by revising its policy on jihadis, with a clear-cut declaration that any organization or individual promoting extremism will be dealt with ruthlessly. This will not only bring about enormous economic gains for Pakistan but also the rest of the countries in the region because of the atmosphere of peace and stability that will get promoted in the process of all this.
There are reports of Russia convincing Iran too to join the SCO with a view to ensuring that the grouping has access to the world’s maximum oil and gas reserves. Of course, this will amount to providing Iran with a platform to challenge the US more virulently, without bothering about economic consequences. But, most probably, Russia or, even for that matter, China will not be bothered about the emerging scenario, posing a threat to US interests. Every country today gives primacy to its own interests while reacting to global or regional issues.
It may not be acceptable to India, but China, in its own interests, is trying to ensure that Nepal too gets entry into the SCO as a full member. The Chinese viewpoint is that a formal partnership with Nepal will help in strengthening Tibet’s security besides providing connectivity between Tibet and India via Nepal.
Yet there is no need for India to get upset as China’s huge investment in Pakistan (in Gwadar port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC for short) may lead to Beijing devising a new strategy for its interests in South Asia. China may now attach greater importance to a big market like India for its ever growing volume of exports with products which may have been manufactured in units in the CPEC. Already, the Indian market is flooded with Chinese goods. It remains to be seen how India responds to the upcoming challenge, particularly in view of the latest military muscle-flexing by Beijing. These are, indeed, trying times for Indian diplomacy.