20th SCO Council of Heads Meeting

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    Context

    • Recently, 20th SCO Council of Heads Meeting was held in Nur-Sultan in virtual format under the chairmanship of Kazakhstan.

    Major Issues Highlighted 

    • Both India and Pakistan joined SCO at the Astana summit in 2017 and ever since Pakistan has tried to raise the Kashmir issue on this platform.
      • Both India and Russia have urged Pakistan not to raise such bilateral matters repeatedly. 
    • There have been repeated attempts to deliberately bring bilateral issues into SCO. 
      • This violates the well-established principles and norms of the SCO Charter. 
        • The SCO Charter sealed in 2002 calls for “peaceful settlement” of conflicts and disputes among member states.
    • India also criticised the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that passes through parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and stated that connectivity corridors should respect sovereignty.
    • India called for reform in the multilateral institutions including in the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    About Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)

    • SCO is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation of Eurasian Nations with a secretariat in Beijing.
    • It is a political, economic and military organisation that aims at maintaining peace, security and stability in the region.
    • SCO is not an alliance directed against other states and regions, it is open for broad cooperation with other states and international associations in accordance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and norms of international law on the basis of mutual interests and common approaches to solving regional and global problems.
    • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.
    • It currently has 8 members with the latest being India and Pakistan who were made members in 2017.
      • There are 4 Observer States and multiple Dialogue Partners.

    Member States

    Observer States

    Dialogue Partners

    1. Kazakhstan
    2. China
    3. Kyrgyzstan
    4. Russia
    5. Tajikistan
    6. Uzbekistan
    7. India
    8. Pakistan
    1. Afghanistan
    2. Belarus
    3. Iran
    4. Mongolia
    1. Azerbaijan
    2. Armenia
    3. Cambodia
    4. Nepal
    5. Turkey
    6. Sri Lanka

    Origin and Journey 

    • Shanghai Five:
      • Shanghai Five emerged in 196 from a series of border demarcation and demilitarization talks between 4 former USSR republics and China.
      • Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan were members of the Shanghai Five.
      • The aim was to ensure stability along the borders.
    • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation:
      • With the accession of Uzbekistan to the group in 2001, the Shanghai Five was renamed the SCO.
      • The SCO Charter was signed in 2002 and entered into force in 2003.
      • It is a statutory document that outlines the organisation’s goals and principles, as well as its structure and core activities.
    • India and Pakistan:
      • India and Pakistan both were initially observer states.
      • Both were given full membership in 2017.

    Structure 

    • Heads of State Council
    • It is the supreme SCO body that decides its internal functioning and its interaction with other States & international organisations.
      • It also considers contemporary international issues.
    • Heads of Government Council
      • It approves the budget, considers and decides upon issues related to economic spheres of interaction within SCO.
    • Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs 
      • It considers issues related to day-to-day activities.
    • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS)
      • It was established to combat terrorism, separatism and extremism.
    • SCO Secretariat 
      • It is based in Beijing
      • It provides informational, analytical & organisational support.

    Main Goals 

    • Strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states
    • Promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas
    • Making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region Moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

    Importance of SCO for India

    • Regional Integration
      • India “considers the SCO as an important regional group” which operates on the basis of “universally recognised international norms, good governance, Rule of Law, openness, transparency and equality”.
      • SCO can help in achieving regional integration, promote connectivity and stability across borders.
      • Further, it also helps India to have a multilateral talk with friends like Russia and adversaries like China and Pakistan.
    • Regional Connectivity
      • Although India opposes the Border and Road Initiative due to CPEC, it understands the importance of connectivity with Central Asian Nations.
      • With Afghanistan and Pakistan being adverse as of now, SCO can help in connectivity with Central Asia.
        • India has taken steps to operationalise the port of Chabahar in Iran for expanding connectivity options of the Central Asian countries
    • Security
      • RATS can help India to improve its counterterrorism abilities by working toward intelligence sharing, law enforcement and developing best practices and technologies.
      • Through the SCO, India can also work on anti-drug trafficking and small arms proliferation.
    • Challenges of terrorism and radicalisation.
      • The whole of Central Asia including is aware of the Taliban and ISKP in Afghanistan which mandates regional cooperation.
    • Geopolitical Advantage
      • Central Asia is a part of India’s Extended Neighbourhood.
        • And SCO provides India with an opportunity to pursue the “Connect Central Asian Policy”.
      • It will also help India to have a check on the ever-growing influence of China in Eurasia.

    Challenges for India in SCO

    • Controlling Pakistan Sponsored terrorism: China has always condoned Pakistan’s link with terrorist activities in India. 
    • SCO may not prove very effective in controlling Pakistan sponsored terrorism.
    • Trust deficit: Growing closeness of Russia and China adds to the difficulties that India faces due to the China Pakistan axis in the SCO.
      • Other member countries are also well disposed towards Pakistan. This puts India at the risk of being isolated in the organization.
    • Lack of connectivity with Central Asia and beyond: A major impediment in connectivity with Central Asia and Eurasia remains the strategic denial of direct land connectivity between India and Afghanistan and beyond by Pakistan.

    Way Forward

    • India believes that greater connectivity is an economic force-multiplier that has acquired greater salience in the post-COVID era. 
      • However, any serious connectivity initiative must be consultative, transparent and participatory. 
      • It must conform to the most basic principle of international law — respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
    • The pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of vital global mechanisms that should have acted more efficiently.
      • This is the time to bring in much-needed reforms to our global institutions, including the WHO, and rework our development strategies to face a post-COVID-19 world”.
    • The opening of Chabahar port and entry into the Ashgabat agreement should be utilized for a stronger presence in Eurasia.

    Source: TH