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India at SCO: Defining Aspirations and Apprehensions
Gaurav Kumar
2018-06-16
Region : Asia, South Asia, India, North East Asia, China,
Issue : Energy Security, Security, Terrorism,
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the 18th annual meeting of SCO in Qingdao, China, the first meeting for India after it was included in SCO in 2017, he must have in his mind some of the core issues India needs to work on. His intervention in extended plenary of 18th SCO Summit on June 10, 2018 intended to address India’s major aspirations and apprehensions amidst the flux in international politics. Three core interlinked issues that he highlighted during his speech were: Connectivity, Cooperation and Security.
Connectivity to Central Asia Region
Connectivity is a major issue for India, not only in South Asia but also in its extended neighbourhood. India for long has eyed Central Asian Region (CAR) for its energy requirements. It is one of the largest energy consuming nations, with energy needs witnessing step escalation in last few years. Professor Harsh pant aptly puts Its interests in the region- India’s interest in securing reliable energy supplies and trade through Central Asia remains substantial. Besides oil and gas, energy-hungry India is eyeing imports of uranium from both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.However the volatility and the insecurity in the CAR and its periphery have choked India’s ambition to be a major player.
Three major suppliers of energy -- Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are playing crucial role in the SCO energy club, and India is keen to latch on the opportunity it has gained after becoming a member of the SCO. In 2012, it had launched ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy- a strategy to partner countries like Germany and Turkey to get a share of the natural resources in the CAR. It is expected that the SCO membership would provide India greater opportunity to explore the possibility of building world's most expensive pipeline costing close to USD 25 billion to ferry natural gas from Russian gas grid in Siberia to India through a 4,500 km to 6,000 km pipeline.
However, till date it has lacked both the capability and the policy to engage with the landlocked countries. The other problem is, even if India achieves some of the capabilities to share the natural resources of CAR countries; it will directly pitch it in fierce competition with both China and Russia, with whom it shares membership in the SCO. Currently, the two countries monopolises the majority of oil and gas export routes from reserves in Central Asia, and India’s entry into the region will only diversify the resource sharing. It is less likely that the two countries would want India to enter a region within their sphere of influence and interests, unless their interests are served. In this regard, SCO provides India a platform to interact with all the stakeholders in the region.
Multidimensional Cooperation
Indian PM talked about cooperation as a cornerstone for developing its foreign relations. It has been reflective of India’s design for greater participation at the global level. PM Narendra Modi has given lot of weightage to the issue of multidimensional cooperation with both major and minor players. He also highlighted India’s areas of expertise in skill development, capacity-building and human resource development.The Competitiveness Outlook for Central Asia 2011 had identified lack of human resource development, challenges to improving competitiveness as key barriers to Central Asian economies to reach their full potential. SCO can provide an excellent stage for India to engage with SAR nations which lacks expertise in the skill development, capacity building, and human resource management.
Security as the Key Determinant for Engagement
The issue of security is of paramount importance, if SCO members want to have better connectivity and cooperation in future. Indian PM emphasized on the importance of security along with respect for sovereignty and integrity. Without naming Pakistan, India highlighted the situation in Afghanistan as an unfortunate example of extremism and the consequences of terrorism. India has large stake in a peaceful, stable Afghanistan, including its desire to have stronger economic and strategic ties with Central Asia. It has consistently blamed Pakistan for fueling violence in Afghanistan for its hegemonic ends. Though India has moderated its stand on Peace talks with the Taliban proposed during Afghanistan Contact group meeting in September 2017, it is least likely that it will moderate its stand on Pakistan in the future of Afghanistan.
Therefore, this is one area where SCO members are going to be at loggerheads; particularly India and China. With China, Pakistan relations reaching its zenith under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, China will be more inclined to protect Pakistan. A neutral or slightly pro-Pakistan attitude can be expected from Russia, which have in last couple of years have shown unprecedented goodwill towards Pakistan.
Finally, by refusing to endorse Chinese most ambitious dream Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) from a platform that for all the practical purpose is aimed to further the interests and ambition of China and Russia, India has signaled that when it comes to its core interests, it is not afraid of contesting a nation that is virtually the next superpower in making. India was the only country in the eight-nation SCO, which refused to endorse China’s mega connectivity initiative. India’s reiteration of its stand comes months after Indian Prime Minister had held informal summit with its Chinese counterpart in China.
India by refusing to endorse BRI signalled to China and Russia, who are eager to bring India under the project that the connectivity and cooperation has its limitation and cannot supersede sovereignty issue. India has throughout objected CPEC under BRI as it passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), which is a legitimate part of India. India has also signalled to the US that its aim to balance relations with China during the informal summit at Wuhan never aimed to risk its neutrality in the global politics, and it still values strategic relationship with the US. It could be concluded that at Qingdao, India was able to bring both its aspirations and apprehensions without compromising its long held stand on foreign relations.
@ Mr Gaurav Kumar is the Associate Research Fellow at the United Service Institution of India, New Delhi. As well as he writes for FORE INDIA. His area of interest and expertise lies in conflict in South Asia with particular focus on Afghanistan.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s)

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