Sco Foreign Ministers’ Meet

External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj visited Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ Meet earlier this week. This was her last foreign visit as the incumbent Minister for External Affairs. Her visit, just a day before the declaration of the results of Indian general election, shows that the SCO is immensely important for India. Indian leaders have dedicatedly attended the SCO meets over the years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been attending the SCO summits since 15th SCO Summit in Ufa, Russia in 2015.

Last year, Mrs. Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval attended their respective SCO meetings in China. The meetings provided a platform to engage with Chinese counterparts after the Doklam standoff and also reach out to Central Asia and the Russia in a multilateral setting. On the sidelines of the 2019 SCO meet, the Indian External Affairs Minister also met the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi and emphasised the importance of the following up on the principles agreed during the Wuhan Informal Summit.

India was inducted into the SCO as a full member in June 2017. With India and Pakistan’s membership, SCO is taking a pan Eurasian shape and spreading to the Indian subcontinent. Regular interactions within SCO meets at different levels are important for India on several counts.

India’s membership in the SCO is giving a boost to its ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy. Afghanistan and Iran are observers in the SCO. In her address, Mrs. Swaraj reiterated India’s commitment to ensuring a smooth conduct of peace negotiations in Afghanistan. She offered India’s full support to the ‘SCO Afghanistan Contact Group’ process. She called for an early conclusion of the Draft Roadmap of further actions of the Contact Group. Without the coherent support and collective efforts of the regional stakeholders, the process will remain elusive and no solution will be long lasting. India sees SCO as a platform for regional cooperation for the peace process in Afghanistan. India’s inclusion in the SCO is instrumental for the regional fight against terrorism. After Pulwama attack of February 2019, India has become more active in the fight against terrorism. SCO’s organ,   Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) was established to deal with three evils-terrorism, separatism and extremism. India has participated in the SCO’s annual counterterror exercise, ‘Peace Mission’. For India, one of the major objectives for being in the SCO is to strengthen the anti-terror efforts in the region.

India is committed towards strengthening connectivity and working for ensuring peace and stability of the region. The External Affairs Minister also reaffirmed India’s commitment towards the realisation of inter-regional connectivity. She mentioned that India’s commitment is visible as it is involved in connectivity projects such as International North-South Transport Corridor; Chabahar Port; Ashgabat Agreement; and India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. However, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in its existing form remains a challenge for India’s foreign policy priorities. India has been demanding “inclusive, sustainable, and transparent initiatives, and urge countries to respect the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

SCO has provided India with a platform to engage not only Central Asian countries, but also Russia and China, the two major Asian giants. The Eurasian region has been facing several transnational challenges-terrorism, lack of connectivity, regional peace and stability and slow regional economic integration momentum. These are major impediments. The prospect of India’s stronger engagement with SCO is brighter than ever as these very objectives drive India’s motivation in joining the SCO.

Over the years, SCO has established itself as a strong regional grouping. It provides countries with diverse interests with a platform to engage in dialogue. India has been appreciative of this and is actively engaging the countries under the aegis of the SCO.

Script: Sana Hashmi, Strategic Analyst On Chinese And Eurasian Affairs