Eurasia Holds Potential

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    In Context

    • The year 2023 is evidently important for India as it hosts multiple global events, including that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

    Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

    • About:
      • It is a permanent intergovernmental international organisation of Eurasian Nations with a secretariat in Beijing.
    • Aim:
      • It is a political, economic and military organisation that aims at maintaining peace, security and stability in the region.
    • Origin: Journey from Shanghai Five to SCO 
      • Shanghai Five emerged in 1996 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.
      • 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.
    • Inclusion of India & Pakistan:
      • India and Pakistan both were initially observer states.
      • Both were given full membership in 2017.

    Member states

    Observer States

    Dialogue Partners

    Kazakhstan

    China

    Kyrgyzstan

    Russia

    Tajikistan

    Uzbekistan

    India

    Pakistan

    Afghanistan

    Belarus

    Iran

    Mongolia

    Azerbaijan

    Armenia

    Cambodia

    Nepal

    Turkey

    Sri Lanka

    • Iran and Belarus:
      • 2021 SCO summit in Dushanbe agreed for Iran to join the SCO. 
      • Belarus has also begun the membership process for SCO.
    • Language: 
      • The SCO’s official languages are Russian and Chinese.
    • Structure of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation:
      • 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.

    Significance of Eurasia for India

    • Varanasi – Cultural and Tourism Capital of SCO:
      • The holy city of Varanasi, showcasing India’s culture and traditions over the ages, is the first “Cultural and Tourism Capital” of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation for 2022-23.
      • It is a new initiative by the eight-member organisation to promote people-to-people contacts and tourism among the member states.
        • The title of ‘Cultural and Tourism Capital’ will be rotated among the member states.
    • 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.
    • Regional Integration:
      • SCO can help in achieving regional integration and 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.
    • 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 check on the ever-growing influence of China in Eurasia.

    Opportunities & potential

    • Trade & commerce:
      • SCO assumes importance given India’s interest in signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries in Eurasia. 
      • The Eurasian states can be long-term partners in energy (oil, natural gas) and natural resources (uranium, iron ore, etc).
      • India’s trade relations with China, Russia and Pakistan are known, hence exploring other markets in the SCO would be worthwhile.
    • Pharmaceutical sector:
      • Focussing on pharma and allied products could be a good starting point. In fact, India will have much scope to enhance pharmaceutical exports to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
      • In the current geopolitical scenario it is almost impossible for India to enter into the Chinese space in these four economies. 
      • However, in pharmaceuticals, India has the potential to make greater inroads.
    • Infrastructure development:
      • Opportunities in infrastructure development remain largely unexplored by India in Eurasia. 
      • TAPI pipeline:
        • Over the years, India had multiple plans to link itself with Central Asia. For instance, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which has the potential to meet India’s energy needs.
      • Hospitals and clinics:
        • India, through the infrastructure development initiative, could also extend cooperation by setting up hospitals and clinics in Eurasia given its experience in other developing economies. 
      • Central Asian e-network for education & medicines:
        • India also has been planning to set up a Central Asian e-network with its hub in India, to deliver, tele-education and tele-medicine connectivity, linking Central Asian states.
    • Project exporters:
      • Indian companies have in the past successfully implemented projects in a variety of sectors and in diversified markets overseas, including in Africa. 
      • They have also demonstrated capabilities to successfully execute a range of projects in challenging environments.
      • Given that Eurasia provides a wide range of opportunities across sectors, Indian project exporters could collaborate with overseas entities to get into this market. However, they will be required to compete with China in the region.

    Challenges:

    • Volatility of the region:
      • A volatile Afghanistan and terror sanctuaries in the Af-Pak region have created many bottlenecks in connectivity projects initiated by SCO member states and other regional countries of Eurasia.
    • Pakistan’s refusal for connectivity projects:
      • Pakistan has impeded strategic, economic and cultural interests by blocking by refusing to facilitate connectivity via its territory. 
      • For instance, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline has been stalled since 2006 due to instability in Afghanistan and hindrances created by Pakistan.
    • Illicit drug trade:
      • Another common challenge to the SCO region is the illicit drug trade emanating from the Af-Pak region. 
        • In 2021, more than 80 per cent of opium and heroin supplies originated from Afghanistan via different routes to the global opium market. 
      • The greater involvement of terror outfits in the narcotic trade has sprung new geo-political challenges to the SCO.
    • Perception of anti-West forum:
      • There continues to be a perception in the West that SCO is an anti-West forum.

    Way ahead

    • While it is imperative for India to bring security issues to the fore at SCO meetings, the potential for economic and trade cooperation with members of the SCO, like those in Eurasia, must be explored. 
    • SCO is, perhaps, the only platform where India comes together with countries of this region.

     

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] What is the significance and potential of India’s economic and trade cooperation with members of the SCO? What are the current geopolitical challenges faced by Eurasia?