The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit scheduled to be held in Samarkand next month is shaping to be an important one. On the agenda for discussion between its eight member-states ~ China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan ~ are the Ukraine conflict, energy security, the food crisis, the situation in Afghanistan, terrorism, the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, trade, and connectivity. Uzbekistan, which currently holds the organisation’s rotating presidency, hosted a meeting of SCO Foreign Ministers in Tashkent a couple of weeks ago to finalise the framework agenda for the summit and presented over 15 draft documents which were agreed upon. But, as a researcher with the Mumbaibased think-tank Gateway House has pointed out in a recent article, there were two anomalies this time around.
First, no joint communique from the meeting was issued which has been the normal practice; instead, Uzbekistan decided to provide a Chair Statement which has not yet been made public. Secondly, all SCO member-states bar India adopted a joint statement on strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) which has been highlighted by the Chinese, Russian, and Pakistani readouts from the meeting. Given the composition of the grouping, there are fears in some quarters that India’s interests may not always be in sync with those of China and its client-state Pakistan. Additionally, there is the perception that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has left Moscow more willing to accommodate Beijing than New Delhi.
The Kremlin has worked assiduously over the past two decades to rebuild its ties with the Central Asian members of the SCO which were once part of the Soviet Union, and Beijing has been keen to open up land trade routes through the region for its Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan, on the other hand, has already invited Afghanistan to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a decision protested strongly by India as many CPEC projects pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Iran, meanwhile, was welcomed as a full member to the SCO at the Tashkent meet and Russian ally Belarus’ membership application process was initiated with further decisions on it to be taken at the Samarkand summit, where Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are also expected to be accorded SCO ‘dialogue partner’ status.
The process of granting similar status to Bahrain and the Maldives is to begin shortly, as also the consideration of requests made by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Nepal for being granted ‘observer’ status, the article published by the think-tank said. These are developments that ought to make India nervous. Not so much in themselves, given India’s excellent relations with most former Soviet Central Asian republics, strengthening ties with Iran, and improving relationships with most other nations on the SCO’s periphery, but because of the perception that the organisation could well be driven down an anti-West path by its most powerful member-states. New Delhi has maintained an adroit distance between the pro-West/anti-West global alliances taking shape in recent years and must be careful not let the justly famous hospitality of the Uzbeks lead to over-enthusiasm at the SCO summit come September.