The influential member states of SCO and the regional stability

Picture source - Reuters
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The SCO holds great geographical and economic importance, with its member nations collectively accounting for approximately 30 percent of the global GDP and encompassing around 40 percent of the world’s population. Recently, India assumed the role of chairing the virtual Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The leaders gathered during the 23rd Summit and emphasized the need for a “more representative” and multipolar world order that serves global interests. Notably, Iran became the Ninth Member Country of the SCO, following its official inclusion at this event. India’s chairpersonship of the SCO revolves around the theme ‘Towards a SECURE SCO’, derived from the acronym introduced by the Indian Prime Minister during the 2018 SCO Qingdao Summit. SECURE stands for Security, Economic development, Connectivity, Unity, Respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and Environmental protection.

A significant outcome of the summit was the signing of the New Delhi Declaration by member nations, which underscored the critical need for global unity against the actions of terrorists, separatists, and extremist groups. The declaration specifically emphasized the importance of thwarting the dissemination of religious fanatism, hostile nationalism, folkloric and racial insight, xenophobia, ideas of fascism, and chauvinism. Furthermore, the leaders unanimously adopted two joint statements, each focusing on cooperation in distinct areas. The first statement aimed at collaborative efforts to counter radicalization that fuels separatism, extremism, and terrorism. The second statement pertained to cooperation in the realm of digital transformation.

India has assumed the responsibility of establishing five new pillars and areas of focus for cooperation within the SCO framework. These pillars encompass Startups and Innovation, Traditional Medicine, Youth Empowerment, Digital Inclusion, and the preservation of Shared Buddhist Heritage. Through the introduction of these pillars, India endeavors to foster collaboration and progress in key domains within the SCO. However, India has decided not to participate in the economic strategy statement of the SCO members known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India’s opposition to the BRI stems from its inclusion of projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), which India considers a violation of its sovereignty. Among the SCO countries, India stands alone in its stance against this project.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the importance of enhancing connectivity while upholding the fundamental principles of the SCO charter, particularly the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states. However, critics argue that Modi himself has disregarded the SCO charter by creating turmoil in Kashmir, violating human rights and international laws.

The declaration also placed emphasis on the situation in Afghanistan, with member states believing that an “early settlement” of the issue is crucial for preserving and strengthening safety and stability in the region. They advocated for Afghanistan to become an sovereign, neutral, united, democratic, and diplomatic state, free from terrorism, violence, warfare, and drugs.

In light of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the SCO countries have been reluctant to criticize Russia. China has maintained close diplomatic ties with Russia and remained politically ambiguous about the war, while increasing trade with Russia following strict sanctions imposed by Western nations. In March, Chinese President Xi Jinping traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they agreed to enter a “new era” of cooperation. India, a longstanding friend of Russia, has attempted to navigate a delicate balancing act. Since the start of the war, India has significantly increased its purchases of discounted Russian oil, maintained high-level contacts with Moscow, and regularly abstained from voting on UN resolutions condemning the war in Ukraine. These actions reflect India’s vested political and economic interests with Russia, leading to a lack of discussion on the Russian-Ukraine war within the SCO, which contradicts the SCO Charter.

Modi called out countries that employ cross-border terrorism as a political tool and provide shelter to terrorists without explicitly naming them. He highlighted terrorism as a threat to regional and global peace, urging SCO leaders not to shy away from holding accountable countries that support terrorism in any form. He emphasized the importance of SCO countries condemning such actions and maintaining consistent standards against terrorism.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif cautioned against the use of terrorism as a diplomatic bargaining chip. He referred to terrorism as a multi-faceted menace that must be fought resolutely, regardless of its source. Sharif countered Modi’s statements by asserting that all forms of terrorism, including state-sponsored terrorism, should be unequivocally condemned. He emphasized that there can be no justification for the loss of innocent lives, regardless of the cause or pretext. He acknowledged the sacrifices made by the people of Pakistan in the fight against terrorism while recognizing that terrorism continues to pose a serious obstacle to regional peace, harmony, prosperity and stability.

Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized China’s unwavering dedication to steering economic globalization in the correct and precise path while firmly opposing protectionism, unilateral sanctions, and the expansion of national security ideologies. He underscored that the collective responsibility of achieving enduring peace and stability lies with the member states of the SCO. President Xi also emphasized the importance for SCO member nations to prioritize the broader and sustainable interests of our region and formulate foreign policies autonomously. It is imperative for us to maintain a high level of vigilance against external endeavors aimed at instigating a new era of ‘Cold War’ or divisive confrontations within our region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in his first international meeting since the Wagner mutiny, asserted that sanctions imposed by US-led western countries are making Russia stronger. “Russia counters all these external sanctions, pressures and provocations and continues to develop as never before. Putin emphasizes that the SCO assumes an ever more prominent role in global matters, actively contributing to the preservation of peace and stability, fostering the sustainable economic development of its member states, and fortifying the bonds among diverse nations.

The SCO plays a vital role in promoting security and economic cooperation within the region. Often referred to as the “NATO of Asia,” the organization encompasses powerful nations such as China, Russia, and India. However, it is worth noting that the SCO’s focus primarily revolves around safeguarding the interests of these influential countries. Although the topic of terrorism is addressed during their summits, concrete solutions to combat this issue remain elusive.

Significantly, certain conflicts, namely the Ukraine conflict and the Kashmir issue, are deliberately avoided in SCO discussions due to the involvement of powerful member countries in these conflicts. This deliberate omission poses a challenge to achieving lasting prosperity and peace within the region. To overcome these obstacles, it is crucial to adopt an appropriate policy of open dialogues to effectively address these significant issues. Such a policy can only materialize when the powerful countries involved take a genuine interest in resolving these matters.